by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 2

About a Thousand Years Later

Peteru removed the headset and rubbed his eyes. Even the muted daylight that seeped into their room seemed overwhelming after five hours of 'seeing' through digital pulses fed directly to his brain's sight centre. He detached the tabs from the base of his cranium, stood, stretched and grinned.

'Are you trying to kill yourself?' Uretep growled. 'You know that three hours attached to that thing is the absolute max! I was going bonkers! Here, have something to eat.'

'Not hungry. Perhaps later. Sorry to worry you, but I chanced on an archive and had to explore.'

'And risk brain damage?' Uretep couldn't keep the irritation from his voice.

'Look out the window. What do you see?'

'Same old same old…'

'Humour me. Describe what you see.'

Uretep stared out at the familiar scene. About a hundred metres below, people in greyish-brown, hooded overalls wandered with no obvious aim through a vast space dotted with shrubs, sculptures, kiosks, park benches and pavilions. Pressing his nose against the glass he peered right and then left. The walls of the vast edifice he called home curved away into the hazy air, completing its circle a kilometre away. Details of the facades on the far side of the structure were impossible to make out through the shimmering fog.

He had no idea of the identities, occupation or any other details of the people in the park—not because it didn't interest him, but because there was no social interaction between castes. In his entire sixteen years the only parts of the great circular city he had visited other than the floors of the module in which he lived, were Central Park when it was reserved for Aristocrats, and the Aristocratic seating area of the Arena. As for outside the city, he knew only what he'd been taught - that it was very, very dangerous. One day he'd ask someone. At the moment he was contented and comfortable enough living where he was and working with Peteru on their research. They were loners and didn't like or get on with the other Science Aristocrats who inhabited the same levels of their module. The noisy, crowded, compulsory public functions in the Arena were more than enough contact with other humans.

Since the age of six, the two young men had been given carte blanche to research and investigate whatever they felt like. Funding had never been a problem and their request five years previously for their own superbly equipped facilities attached to their private apartment, had been granted without a murmur, despite the existence of magnificently furnished, state of the art laboratories only a floor above them, which they could share with other Scientists and have all the technicians they desired. In his ignorance, Uretep imagined everyone in the city of Oasis lived like him and Peteru in relatively luxurious surroundings with good food, enough living space, privacy and the right to choose celibacy or companionship with whoever they pleased.

Although he'd never been there, he knew the top dozen floors of the Aristocratic module were the preserve of the Mages, where security was impenetrable and few were invited. Below the Mages, lived the Emperor and his entourage in, according to vidgrams, fairytale splendour. Between them and the level where Peteru and Uretep lived and worked, were the offices and residences of the Aristocratic Chiefs of the various arms of administration that ensured the efficient organisation and development of Oasis: Maintenance, Health, Education, Breeding, Food, Sanitation, Accommodation, Employment, Transport, Surveillance and Enforcement.

The bureaucracies and living quarters of the Overseer Aristocrats charged with the day to day running of Oasis were below the two young men in descending order of importance—breeding and education at the top down to transport at ground level.

'What am I looking for?' Uretep asked impatiently.

'Look up.'

'I'm looking up.'

'What do you see?'

Uretep stared without interest at the softly glowing beige firmament that filled the world with a diffused, warm amber light creating no shadows. He turned back to Peteru. 'Only the ceiling.'

'Why's it called that?'

'Who cares?'

'I do.'

'Well I don't! What's this all about—I can usually guess what's going on in your head, but today you're an enigma.'

'Things are not what they seem…' Peteru's voice trailed away.

'Peteru, I'm renowned for my patience, for my understanding. I know you as well as I know myself—at least I should! But I'm tired, so tell me why I am staring out the window at the world? As far as I can see it hasn't changed in the last hour, and will probably remain the same for the next thousand years.'

'That's it! The sameness. There's something not right. Something we don't understand.'

'Not right?'

Peteru shook his head as if to clear it. 'I'm not sure what, but doubts about everything we assume to be reality are clogging my thinking. After what I've seen today, I know there's something wrong with this place. This life. It…'


'It's unnatural.'

'Unnatural? How can the ideal environment for humans to develop and live be unnatural? Nothing could be more natural.'

'You reckon? Today I learned that the word ceiling comes from an ancient word, 'ciel' meaning all the gasses outside Oasis—above and beyond the ceiling.'

'There's nothing outside but barren rock, poisonous air, lethal solar radiation. No life, nothing.'

'How do you know?'

'Everyone knows it. It's why we live in Oasis and no one leaves.'

'No one knows it—they believe it because the Mages say it is so. They also tell us we were chosen by gods Domino and Domina to inhabit this barren planet as a test of our worthiness, so that after we die we will return to the land of our ancestors. Everyone believes this; but a belief is what you have when you don't know something. No one knows what's outside. No one knows what happens after death. At least no one I know knows.'

'Keep your voice down!' Uretep's voice held an edge of panic. 'You said you learned it today. Where? How? What were you doing so long in the hood?'

'When I told the Grand Science Master I'd like to research prehistoric relics he sneered and said to go ahead because the greatest minds haven't been able to break the codes, or work the machines of the ancients, and neither would I. The consensus among the Elite is that the artefacts aren't scientific tools, but artworks—fake implements built for decoration by our ancestors in previous ages.' Peteru's grin merely increased Uretep's anxiety.


'But I discovered a way to read them.'


'They're the most amazing records of the distant past—our history.'

'You haven't told anyone?' Uretep's voice held an edge of panic.

'No way! They'd destroy the machines in case other people learned to read them, began to think, and then challenged the beliefs!' He fixed Uretep with a solemn stare. 'We've been lied to! The real ciel is translucent blue during the day and you can see the source of our heat and light. It's called the sun and it's like a great ball of fire floating in space, but its radiation hasn't always been lethal to life. At night the ciel is black and anyone looking up can see millions of tiny lights called stars that are other suns.'

Uretep was unable to conceal his nervousness. 'This is blasphemy, Peteru. Too dangerous to even think about. We were given permission to do research because we convinced them it might be useful for NumbaCruncha. You're risking everything by studying myths and legends that undermine the great truths. You know the punishment!' His voice had sunk to a whisper and he looked around in fear of eavesdroppers.'

'Nobody would believe I managed to read the old records, because they're convinced it's impossible, so stop fussing. I want you to join me and see for yourself.'

'I'm not sure I want to know. Anyway, we've only just time to put something in our stomachs before we have to give the demo! Have you forgotten?'

'Of course not. Stop being such a fusspot. Everything's prepared.'

They showered, drank a bowl of sweet soup and were checking the contents of the demonstration trolley when, with scarcely a pause between knock and entry, Augur, the red-faced, beefy young Mage with whom they'd been liaising in preparation for the demonstration of their invention, burst in and glared impatiently from one to the other. 'You're not ready!'

'We are. We're just checking we've got everything.'

'Have you a death wish?'

'What do you mean?'

'You're not wearing your cloaks! Have you spent so long cloistered in this room you've forgotten the penalty for exposing yourselves in public? Get yourselves decent! Their holinesses are waiting!'

'Of course we hadn't forgotten, it's just so hot everywhere nowadays because the air conditioning's so often on the blink; it's more comfortable working like this.' Peteru's voice betrayed his irritation.

Augur's eyes were slits of fury. He drew a hissing breath in preparation for a severe rebuke.

'We apologise sincerely, Mage,' Uretep interrupted, voice earnest and placating, once again having to extricate Peteru from potential punishment caused by an errant tongue that refused to grovel.

Augur sniffed irritably while the young men slipped their feet into soft shoes, pulled fine fabric gloves onto their hands, enveloped their bodies in long pale blue cloaks, and concealed their heads with matching blue hoods. With only their faces exposed they turned to the increasingly threatening Augur.

'We are ready, sir.'

He eyed them up and down, grunted satisfaction, reminded them to be silent unless spoken to, and to show suitable gratitude at being granted special security status to visit the Upper Levels.

The two young men nodded, unwilling to risk pointing out that surely they were the ones owed gratitude for their invention, not the other way round.

'I sincerely hope for your sakes that this thing you're demonstrating is a hundred percent safe, especially as the Emperor and Empress will be the first to demonstrate whatever it is you've been working on in front of all their subjects.'

'Its perfectly safe, but how you'll convince the plebs, let alone the Mages that it's a good idea beats me.'

'That's because you are not a Mage,' Augur snapped. 'Hurry along, everyone's waiting!' He stalked out of the room.

'I wish the little runt would wash,' Peteru whispered.

'Yeah. Smells like death. It's odd; he looks young but acts like a cranky old bastard. I hope the rest are less obnoxious or it's going to be a long afternoon.'


'Terrified, actually. I've never thought of the Mages as human—more like gods.'

'Me too.'

Dragging the trolley they followed the irritable little man along a short corridor to a negrav chute that disappeared above and below into the shadows. Augur entered a code, they stepped into space and were thrust swiftly up fifty floors to the domain of Domino and Domina and their human representatives, the Mages.

A Demonstration

Looking as if it had been hewn from solid rock, the enormous circular Council Chamber was shadowy and dim. Concealed lighting illuminated thirteen throne-like seats arranged on a slightly raised dais opposite the entrance. Behind them, luxuriant drapes patterned in writhing shapes of deep green and amber, covered the bare stone of the wall. A powerful floodlight beaming from recesses in the high domed ceiling set granules of mica in the polished granite floor sparkling, and brought to life the only other furnishing in the vast space, a six-metre diameter, midnight blue circular carpet in which an intricately woven pattern of gold thread appeared to writhe in sympathy with the drapes behind the thrones. The absence of all other furniture or decoration suggested brute strength and unlimited power.

Eleven Mages, all but their faces concealed by a variety of colourful, shimmering robes, lounged casually on their thrones to either side of a slightly more elaborate central throne on which slumped a very large Mage in a scintillating black, tent-like garment and high pointed hat. With his chin resting on his chest he looked to be asleep. On entering the chamber Augur told his charges to leave their trolley by the arched entrance, then when he was seated, walk with bowed heads across to the Mages and wait humbly in front of the central throne until told to proceed.

The two young men scarcely dared breathe as they walked the forty metres from the entrance, bowed, then stood silently, gazing at their feet. After a couple of minutes, curiosity won and they raised their heads enough to see what was happening. One Mage scratched his chest; another fiddled with his hood. A third adjusted his buttocks as if farting. One had kicked off a slipper and was scratching the sole of his foot. With bodies concealed by voluminous garments, their age and sex were impossible to discern. Some were obviously overweight. On others the cloaks seemed to hang from bones as if their owners were seriously underfed. The faces were dull, ordinary, uninspiring, unmemorable—nothing like they'd expected of the most powerful people on the planet; the representatives of the gods. First impressions were more of decay, ennui and somnolence than ebullient health and fitness. And what they had assumed was meditation in the immobile ones, was looking more like sleep.

In mounting fear of failing to observe correct protocol, Peteru and Uretep again bowed respectfully in the hope of a response, but had to wait another ten minutes before the obese person on the central throne waved an airy hand and jolted everyone awake by screeching, 'Proceed!'

The entire room snapped to attention. The Chief Mage was female and irritated.

The young men bowed then sprinted back to the entrance where they placed four thin, thirty-centimetre-square flexible mats on the floor beside the trolley, then carried another fourteen mats back to the Mages, placing one in front of each minor throne, and two in front of the Chief.

In unnerving silence they explained that their invention, NumbaCruncha, would revolutionise how humans moved around Oasis, thus saving energy because of greater efficiency, saving labour because of less maintenance, and increasing security because of the possibility of central control.

NumbaCruncha had been Peteru and Uretep's invention, and the complex programmes involved in its functions sprang from their fertile brains. They worked well together because each always seemed to know what the other wanted, was doing and would do. This perfect understanding and communication in their professional lives was repeated in their personal. Since beginning work on NumbaCruncha at the age of eleven they had deliberately avoided all social contact with others, working without the assistance of either Freemen technicians or Vassal assistants. Neither missed the company of other humans or wanted to change their lives, realising intuitively that if you have the perfect working partner, friend, lover and companion, then only a fool would risk diluting the relationship. Despite their youth they were not fools.

'What exactly does NumbaCruncha mean?' asked the Chief, this time in a pleasant contralto.

'Number crunching is jargon for what a computer does when it solves equations. We couldn't think of a better label, and it's sort of what our little gadget does quite spectacularly, so the name stuck.' Peteru took from his pocket a tiny, silvery capsule the size of a grape, held it up for all to see, and explained that it was a computer that sent wireless directions to the mat, where embedded electronics processed them.

'What mat? What directions?' someone asked impatiently. 'Get to the point!'

Uretep took over. 'When a person wants to be transported, they stand on a mat like these,' he pointed at the ones in front of the Mages, 'and whisper a number or destination into the computer. The computer then sends a signal to the enseemat the person is standing on, and to the one he wants to go to. The mats have nano computers woven into them that then analyse every living particle and it's position in the body that's standing on it. This information is converted to a digital formula, the numbers are crunched, and sent as coded neutrinos by the most direct route to the receiving mat, which then reassembles the original living object.'


'We chose neutrinos as carriers because having virtually no mass they ignore what is usually thought of as solid matter, passing through rock, water and even planets as if they didn't exist; not stopping until 'caught'; in this case by the target mat.

'Hang on,' someone interrupted. 'First you said mats, then enseemats! Is there a difference?'

'No, when I'm lazy I just call them mats. Ensee stands for the letters n c—NumbaCruncha.'

'So, you can't use a mat unless you have one of these shiny little computers?'

'That's correct at the moment. In future, if you approve of this means of transport, mats will be placed in permanent spots with a wireless relay to a central computer a million times more powerful and therefore slightly larger than this little demo model.'

'What do you mean, a wireless relay?'

'Just a simple wireless signal, nothing complicated. The large central computer will handle all the traffic. All the relay does is transmit the number or the name of the place that whoever is on the mat wants to go to, and the computer then tells both mats to go for it.'

'What about people like us who don't want to go to public places?'

'Special people like you would have their personal mats and computers like this one, so they can use them as they like. All your mats will, of course, be off limits to unauthorised people'

The questioner nodded, satisfied at being labelled a special person.

The young inventors explained that nothing had been left to chance during development, and after experiments on rats they had themselves used the device several times with no ill effects—apart from one minor oddity that they would demonstrate if the Mages would permit them to remove their hoods.

Permission granted they removed their headgear, exposing shiny bald heads. A thin Mage laughed rudely. Uretep smiled to conceal his irritation at the impertinence, and explained that NumbaCruncha only transported living matter. Thus hair, which is dead, and such things as dead skin cells and clothes remain behind.

'Are you telling us whoever is transported by this thing arrives stark naked?'

'Yes, but as you will be aware, temperatures have risen steeply in Oasis over the last year and it is much more pleasant to be naked than wrapped in all these cloaks and hoods or overalls. One of the surprising effects of using NumbaCruncha is that such things no longer bother you. There's no embarrassment whatever.'

'People's embarrassment is hardly the question!' a female Mage sneered. 'We are talking about the laws of Domino and Domina!'

'I think we can discount those for the moment, Irene,' the Chief said equably. 'The main difficulty I foresee is that if you arrive naked you can't take anything with you.'

'At the moment people seldom bother to take anything with them when they go anywhere. In shops all things are paid for using handprint credit and their purchases are delivered. And all doors they have the right to enter open with their handprint. OK, so they can't carry things back home, but they can check them in at a negrav chute before zapping themselves up and arriving before their goods.'

'But I like to wear jewellery,' a man protested. 'Nothing grandiose—a few rings, a chain or two… that sort of thing.'

'I agree,' several people said irritably.

'Stuff your jewels you fat faggot!' a stout female voice interrupted. 'More importantly, we'll have to leave the tiny silver computer thing behind too as it's non living, so how do we get back again with nothing to whisper instructions to?'

'As I mentioned, there will be computer terminals at every enseemat station.'

'But what if I want to be private—go somewhere not on the public circuit? To the apartments of other Mages, for example?'

'An excellent question,' Peteru responded with a winning smile. 'Non-living things can be transported as long as they are fully enclosed inside a living organism. Food you're digesting, implants, false teeth, for example—so people must remember to keep their mouths closed.'

'That doesn't answer my question!'

'Sorry. If you are using your personal mat to go back and forth somewhere private, the computer terminal is so tiny you pop it under your tongue so it goes with you.'

'What if you forget?'

'The mat remembers the last mat you visited, so simply touching the wrist chip will send you back.'

'What chip! How many more things haven't you told us? Why can't you explain things properly?'

'This is the only other thing. ' Uretep replied patiently, 'A minuscule chip which is painlessly implanted in the wrist, allows the mat to analyse the body and transport the person standing on an enseemat to the destination of his choice.' Both young men offered their wrists to the Mages for inspection, then stood respectfully waiting for a response.

'It'd better not hurt,' someone snarled.'

'She's right. And holding stuff in your mouth sounds bloody uncomfortable.'

'Transporting is virtually instantaneous so you only have to hold things for an instant. For larger items we've designed an easily inserted capsule.'

From his pocket he produced a black ovoid about twelve centimetres long and five centimetres in diameter, narrowing to a blunt point at both ends. With a flick of the wrist it opened and he withdrew a fine gold filigree collar and a rolled up document. 'As you can see, there's plenty of room for more. We're very proud of this capsule,' he said with a shy smile. 'The surface feels slimy, although it is perfectly dry, caused by the fact that you are not actually touching it. and that's because there's a permanent nano-gap between the surface and whatever surrounds it. With a little practice it is easily inserted in the rectum, and as easily removed on arrival. For women, larger versions will be available for insertion in the vagina. We envisage that practised users will be able to accommodate even larger capsules in both orifices.'

Ribald guffaws issued from most of the Mages as the resealed capsule was passed along, everyone exclaiming about the bizarre slimy feel and it's total lack of dust, dirt or odour.

When it was back in his hands, Peteru grinned. 'This capsule and its contents have travelled many times enclosed in my rectum, but I assure you it is totally sterile and as pristine as it looks because it has literally never touched my body—just as it hasn't come into contact with your hands. For that reason it doesn't need washing—indeed cannot be washed because it doesn't allow water to touch it's surface.'

'If you don't touch it, how can you open it?'

'Sensors respond to the twisting motion of warm hands and activate the mechanism that opens it. The same thing happens in reverse for closing.'

Several Mages began muttering about insubordination, having touched something that had been up a commoner's arse, but the Chief turned viciously on a narrow-faced man in purple. 'Job! If Peteru is telling the truth, which I think he is, then you have not touched the capsule that's been up his arse. So shut the fuck up!'

'I'll have an independent laboratory check his claim and if he's lying he's dead meat!'

The Chief turned to Peteru. 'Are you worried?'

'Peteru smiled and shook his head. 'No, your worship. No one in this room has touched the capsule, as he will discover.'

'Good. Now how easy would it be for me to use NumbaCruncha?'

'It's foolproof, your worship,' Uretep said quietly, hastily adding, 'not that I'm suggesting you're…'

'I realise that,' she snapped.

The Mages muttered together for several minutes, then resurfaced and said they'd wait till after the demonstration before asking any more questions.

'Bring in the volunteers,' Augur called, and four men and four women dressed in hooded dun-coloured overalls walked shyly in, accompanied by a handsome, colourfully gowned and hooded man of about forty—the Emperor's Physician. Despite their nervousness at finding themselves almost within touching distance of the Mages, all stood tall and straight and gazed around with clear, intelligent curiosity.

'What are they?' the Chief demanded.

'They're Freemen workers from the energy department, your Worship.'

'Have they all been checked for health?' someone asked.

'They have, Your Worship,' the physician replied politely.

'Then proceed.'

All the Mages leaned forward to watch Peteru and Uretep implant microchips in the volunteers' wrists and were rather obviously relieved that it seemed to be painless.

'Begin,' boomed the Chief.

The two young inventors and the eight Freemen returned to the trolley beside the entrance, where Uretep gave them instructions. One by one the four women mounted the mat, each whispered a different number into the shiny little computer held by Peteru, touched their wrists and disappeared, reappearing almost instantly on four different mats in front of the female Mages—naked and hairless, slightly surprised but certainly not upset, smiling and touching themselves intimately.

'Why are they smiling? What are they doing?' someone demanded.

The physician conferred with the women and reported that they felt a very powerful but pleasant sensation in their sexual areas, akin to an orgasm.

The men were then transported to the mats in front of the male Mages, arriving hairless, naked, powerfully tumescent and blithely unconcerned. They stared down at their rampant penises in amusement and, like the women, began quietly masturbating. On seeing this, the women ran to them, fondled their erections, then dropped onto hands and knees, presenting swollen vulvas. Three men needed no further invitation and mounted eagerly. The fourth declined the offer, instead fondling the scrotum of one of the sexually engaged men, who allowed him to penetrate him, making a threesome. The remaining woman shrugged and made do with her fingers. Noisy rutting continued for several minutes until the men were satisfied. The women, however, appeared insatiable, cajoling the men to fuck them again until they were pushed laughingly away. Unabashed, they set about pleasuring each other in every imaginable manner for another five minutes, watched by the Mages and four slightly bored, but unembarrassed Freemen.

As suddenly as it had arrived the sexual urge dissipated. The women got to their feet, ran their fingers through non-existent hair and smiled as if they'd enjoyed a very pleasant experience. All eight, lean, fit, healthy people submitted calmly to the Emperor's Physician's diagnostic tool, which declared everyone completely healthy and unaffected by their experience.

'Leave!' the Chief snapped abruptly, spoiling the atmosphere.

Before being led away a woman asked sweetly if they would be rewarded for their performance.

'How dare you speak without permission!' growled the Chief Mage. 'As promised, when you leave this room you will be released and rewarded.'

Eight symmetrical, handsome faces relaxed into grateful smiles. They stood straighter, if that were possible, and marched proudly from the room, not bothering to pick up their clothes.

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