by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 5


Angie should have been in bed. Nauseating, phlegm-filled snorts accompanied her exhaustive and exhaustingly verbose catalogue of the problems requiring urgent attention. Suddenly choking on a particularly large gob of mucus, she coughed violently, spraying her two listeners with malodorous slime before scuttling back inside.

No one took any notice.

Not daring to wipe Magus mucus from their bodies, Peteru and Uretep conferred softly until Ishbel impatiently demanded to know what they thought

'The problems are daunting, but stimulating,' Peteru said thoughtfully, itemising them on his fingers. 'Oasis power generators are no longer up to the task; most other services are run down; buildings are crumbling due to age and a series of minor earthquakes over the last year; malfunctioning negrav chutes are dropping innocent people to their deaths; air-conditioning plants need an upgrade causing a noticeable rise in average temperature and increased humidity and air pollution, with a corresponding increase in lung infections over the last two years. Vassals are becoming difficult because of food shortages due to disease in algae beds; the mines beneath the city are exhausted, and toxic waste has filtered into the deep drinking-water wells. In other words, Oasis is on its last legs and it's a case of rejuvenate or perish. How am I going?'

'You've grasped the essentials.'

'Your solution is to construct a new Oasis.'

'Exactly. In fact the replacement Oasis is already completed, and plans for the construction of three new Oases are underway.'

'That's astonishing!'

'Yes, and it's thanks to me,' an oleaginous little Mage with slicked down red hair, moist fat lips and very little in the way of chin, announced proudly. 'I've always had the tools, but for centuries have asked in vain for a workforce. Eventually, twenty-eight years ago I persuaded Elbert to start a breeding program that produced enough Vassals to fell the forest that used to extend right up to this terrace. After clearing we blasted a gigantic hole in the nearest granite outcrop, then brought in trained Vassals to finish the work by laser-carving replicas of Oasis modules into the walls; the ideal design for a city state as I'm sure you'll agree.'

Peteru nodded.

Uretep had been watching his friend with growing alarm and interrupted before he could raise objections. 'So there is a totally new empty city just waiting to be populated?


'Aren't the Freemen and Vassals that built it living there?'

'Of course not! Apart from the fact that having built the city they know it's safe to live outside, they've been worked to death and were needed as starter fodder for the algal beds.'

'So the city is completely uninhabited?'



Everyone cast accusing looks at Elbert.

'He hasn't even started to breed the Vassals, Freemen and Aristocrats that will be required to inhabit the cities,' sneered Job.

'Untrue!' Shouted Elbert. 'You know damn well that all the spare incubators have been out of commission until recently. I'm doing everything I can but…' his voice trailed off and he stormed over to the railing, affecting interest in the distant forest.

'Now you've offended him,' Nell sniggered.

'It's not funny,' Fabien yawned.

'It certainly isn't,' Ishbel said with a sigh. 'Elbert fucked up. He relied on continuous power and didn't install back-up generators so the frozen multitudes who should have been living in the new city rotted in their capsules during several power failures.'

'Even if that hadn't happened, you had no way of moving them to the new city without them discovering it was safe to go outside,' Nell said with a sly wink at red haired Job. That's why you're so interested in NumbaCruncha.'

'Where is the city?'

'Not far—you can see it from here. Come and look.'

They followed Job to the rail.

'There,' he pointed.

It wasn't surprising they'd missed the large dome that barely protruded above the rough plain. It was the same colour as the soil, and partially hidden by intervening scraggy shrubs.

'How far away is it?'

'About three kilometres.'

'How were you intending to move everyone between the cities?'



'But although the surface is solid enough to support moving the workers and equipment when it's been dry for a while, we discovered while tunnelling that a few metres beneath the crust is quicksand. In fact after the rainy season, just jumping on the surface turns everything into a quagmire. We lost several transporters that way. We knew the granite outcrops in which we've built were the product of ancient eruptions, but didn't know they were originally islands in a vast inland sea that had silted up. Our glorious engineer didn't think to test.' He directed a venomous glare at Ishbel who pretended she hadn't heard.

'Enclosed trains on well-cushioned rails?' Peteru asked.

'During the wet season even the slightest vibration turns it into a slurry.'

'I reckon you're going to a great deal of trouble to avoid telling people what they have the right to know—that the planet isn't a death trap.'

'We decide what people have the right to know, and you've been told why that is not one of them,' Ishbel snarled.

'Well, this puts NumbaCruncha even more at the centre of things!' Uretep quickly interrupted, seeing irritation on several faces. 'Instant transport between the cities means no one will be required to go outside.' His enthusiasm seemed perfectly genuine, but a quiet, pale woman sitting at the back whispered into her notebook then looked the young man in the eyes.

'You're a smooth talker, Uretep,' she said softly, 'flattery will get you just about everywhere.'

Uretep laughed easily. 'Thanks ah…' he paused as if embarrassed at not knowing the woman's name.


'Luckily, Alice, I'm already exactly where I want to be, thanks to you Mages.'

Peteru, belatedly realising he might have aroused suspicion, became suddenly enthusiastic. 'A new city is fantastic, and three more on the drawing boards. After they're finished will there be more?'

'Many more,' Xanthippe purred. 'A great many more; and larger. Properly handled, population increase will be exponential. I've calculated that within twenty years as far as the eye can see all the forests will be replaced by cities with a total population of at least five hundred million. With the technology at our disposal there's no limit to our expansion… if Elbert gets his arse into gear.'

'I assure you it is well and truly in gear!' Elbert growled as he sauntered back, softly adding as he sat, 'Impatient bitch.' Turning to the inventors he almost smiled. 'We recently stopped adding chemical sterilisers to foods and fluids, and tests indicate that females have already started ovulating, so the Empress has had to teach them about menstruation.'

'Males are also doing well; sperm is viable and copious, thanks to the continuing health and vigour of most people.' Justinian added morosely.

'Nice of you to wake up, Justinian. If you stayed awake more often we might have avoided many of our problems.'

'It seems clear to me that Oasis can't be repaired while its full of people,' Peteru interjected thoughtfully, 'so I reckon the first thing to do is make the entire population familiar with NumbaCruncha, then we can send everyone to the new city, leaving a crew here to make repairs.'

'I was on the point of suggesting that,' Fabien muttered. 'As you're so smart, how do you suggest we introduce Vassals and Freemen to these things?' indicating the enseemat. 'Not to mention the bloody Aristocrats.'

'You've also been asleep!' Alice snapped. 'We decided at the meeting last night that Ishbel will announce at the next Arena Gathering that she has met with the gods, Domino and Domina, who instructed her to remove all laws restricting sexual activity, Furthermore, sexual activity is now a requirement of faith, and those who copulate with as many different partners as possible, as often as possible, in as many places as possible, will be the most loved by both Domino and Domina.'

'Exactly,' Ishbel interrupted. 'That'll be followed immediately by an official demonstration of NumbaCruncha by the Emperor and Empress, who will be transported instantaneously across the Arena and copulate in front of the entire population—in case anyone should think the gods are not serious.'

'You can't be serious! The fellow's not interested in females.'

'A trip by NumbaCruncha will at least make him randy, we'll threaten him with castration if he doesn't fuck the bitch.'

Peteru scowled.

'That's brilliant, Ishbel,' Uretep gushed to prevent Peteru saying something critical. 'Seeing the Emperor and Empress doing it will put the seal of approval on everything. It'll remove any residual shyness that might have prevented success.'

Ishbel smirked disgustingly.

Holding a large handkerchief to her nose, Angie wandered back onto the terrace. 'And to facilitate conception,' she announced with absurd solemnity, 'I will ensure that the protein content of food is increased.'

'I will also inform the masses,' Ishbel said in primly pious tones, 'that Domino and Domina have decreed that it is the bounden duty of every woman over the age of fourteen to bear children in their honour. Pregnancy, and the natural birth of a child to every woman will result in the blessings of the gods.'

'As you said yesterday, Ishbel, it almost makes you believe in divine intervention,' Xanthippe laughed. 'We thought it was going to be difficult to sell free sex and pregnancy after centuries of religious prudery, sexual guilt and artificial breeding. Now it looks as if it'll be a breeze.'

'All we're waiting for is enough enseemats and control boxes,' Augur said peevishly. 'Have you any idea how long it will take?'

'Plans and specifications are complete, so as soon as you get tooled up you can mass produce them,' Peteru said.

'That's my field,' Ishbel announced. 'I'll get the engineers onto the problem as soon as you give them to me.'

'We can only guarantee the results will be foolproof, Ishbel,' Uretep said politely, 'if Peteru and I are totally in charge with no restrictions, no interference, and no pulling of rank by other scientists who will want to take over. It's incredibly complicated, so absolute precision is vital! We don't want people to arrive with bits missing—or not arriving at all!'

'Obviously,' Ishbel agreed. 'Therefore I'll issue an edict that whoever interferes, gets in your way or irritates you will be tossed down the exit chute.'

Peteru nodded seriously. 'We'll not abuse our power. As long as everything's done properly it's perfectly safe because we've designed plenty of intermediate testing programs to ensure every stage is flawless.'

'Of course.'

'Has anyone considered that in nine months children will be popping out all over?' someone asked. 'Have we thought about what the mothers are going to do with them? They won't know who the father is and the nurseries won't be able to cope.'

'It is unlikely that all maternal instincts have disappeared,' Xanthippe snapped. 'Instructions will be given by the Empress for delivery, and Justinian will arrange for birthing assistants.'

'It's going to be interesting,' Ishbel added with a laugh, 'to see how people react to the idea of squirting children out from between a woman's legs!'

'The worrying aspect of this program is the uncertainty,' said Elbert. 'What will the offspring be like? Will they be amenable, or will they refuse to accept the roles demanded by their caste? Until now, building a stable citizenry has been a predictable science; anonymous donors, eggs and sperm genetically modified, labelled according to caste and potential usefulness, then stored until needed.'

'Rubbish!' snapped Xanthippe. 'It's my brainwashing that does the trick. We'll just make a few more education headsets the mothers can apply to the infants as soon as they're relocated in their new apartments. No problem.'

'Can you get the entire enseemat system up and running within nine months?' Fabien asked.

'Given a free hand and all the technicians and equipment we need, it'll be ready well before then.'

'Excellent. That means we can ship everyone off to the new, sterile city before they give birth.'

'There's going to be a problem with men demanding to know which child is theirs,' observed a quiet, heavy woman with an incipient moustache.

'Not if we tell them the child is conceived solely by the mother, and the only function of the male is as a catalyst to precipitate pregnancy by inserting his penis and ejaculating,' suggested a tiny young woman with a curly mop of black hair and bright blue eyes.

'Excellent idea, Ruby—why didn't I think of that? Ignorance is bliss, as someone once wrote. That way they'll just fuck and won't even think about the consequences,' Ishbel laughed wildly. 'And every pregnant female and whoever her partner happens to be at the time, will be required to commit to support each other and the child until it's old enough to work.'

'As I'm responsible for accommodation,' Ruby announced proudly, 'when the pregnancy is confirmed I will guarantee, as a reward for their commitment, that both adults and their infant will be transported via NumbaCruncha to their modern clean new quarters in the new Oasis.'

'Ha! That's good, considering they'll be going anyway.'

'And will we tell them they'll have to work and live in the same way there as they do here, maintaining us and the Aristocrats in the style to which we have become accustomed?' Job asked dryly.

The laughter was genuine.

'And then we'll continue building more and more Oases until we've covered the planet in Vassal states,' Peteru enthused with barely a hint of irony.

'You don't approve?' Job asked softly.

'What's not to approve?' Peteru responded seriously. 'We are the pinnacle of all life; the planet is ours for the taking, so why shouldn't we use it as we see fit?'


'Although the best use for NumbaCruncha is going to be travel for Mages and enforcers between the cities,' Peteru continued brightly, as if unaware of his audience's growing distrust, 'the replacing of energy-gobbling negrav chutes with enseemats that will transport everyone to and from work instantaneously so they can work longer, can't be discounted. It will free up enormous amounts of energy for other purposes. And instead of a dozen workers having to make a dangerous climb to a high place to repair something, only one would have to climb with an enseemat, then the others can be transported.' He nodded happily as he considered other possibilities, unaware of suspicious glances between the Mages who were becoming increasingly distrustful of these strange young men. Why were they so excited about new things, but unimpressed with their elevation to the status of Mage. They had to have an ulterior motive—but what could it be?

An awkward silence lasted several long minutes until Ruby asked if they would like to be shown to their new apartments on the Mage level, where they would have access to the exterior as well as the rest of Oasis. They should also meet their Vassals.

The offer of an above ground apartment was very tempting, but the young men regretfully declined; they needed to remain where they were until NumbaCruncha was fully installed and running without problems. All their experiments and work were laid out in their laboratory apartment and much too complicated to move. Instead, they arranged to meet for a conference with the Mages every day after the third meal, and to meet with the Aristocrat engineers and Ishbel in two hour's time with the plans.

An even more loaded silence greeted their refusal of this unprecedented offer. There was definitely something very suspicious going on. Both young men had been so enraptured at their discovery of the pristine, clean wide world outside Oasis, it made no sense that they'd refuse to live above ground. Ishbel exchanged a furtive nod with Fabien. Surveillance would have to be increased.

Affecting unconcern at their refusal of luxurious accommodation in the same space as the Mages, Ishbel insisted with more than her usual force that they were not to tell anyone working on NumbaCruncha the true purpose of the work —not even the Chief Scientist. Instead, everyone was to be told that this was a new individual health analysis and diagnostic tool.

As if responding to an inaudible signal, the Mages levered themselves out of their chairs and wandered back inside, leaving the two inventors on the deck. No one thanked them, offered to shake hands or gave any other indication of appreciation. After a couple of minutes indecision, Peteru and Uretep returned to the living room where the Mages sat in silence, staring at them. Embarrassed and wondering what they'd done, they stood together on the enseemat, pressed their wrists and vanished.

The silence lasted only seconds before erupting into acrimonious disputes between those who trusted the two young men and those who insisted they were planning to take over the city and replace the Mages as overlords. It was essential, they insisted, that both young men were eliminated the minute they had handed over the plans.

'How did those two escape your brainwashing?' Ethel shouted at Xanthippe.

'Don't shout at me you venomous vixen,' Xanthippe snarled. 'If you read the briefings instead of screwing every male Vassal you can lay your scrawny claws on, you'd know that as part of the experiment to create super inventive scientists we decided to waive the mind-bending in case that was affecting imagination and creativity. The results speak for themselves. Those two are geniuses. Fortunately, they don't realise it. I agree they're potential problems, but they're not irreplaceable. We've several clones of them in storage so once this is over you can do what you like with them!'

A compromise was reached. Until the complete system was up and running perfectly with trained technicians to ensure maintenance, the inventors were to be given the freedom of Oasis like any other Mage.

'Always wait until the goose has laid the last golden egg before eating it,' said sly, soft-spoken Melvyn. Everyone nodded, albeit reluctantly, and retired to their apartments.

Forty-one floors beneath the Lords of Oasis, the two young geniuses shook their heads in despair.

Production Gets Underway

At lunchtime Peteru and Uretep ordered their usual algal steaks, toast and coffee. While eating they couldn't help wondering if remaining in their old apartment had been a sensible decision. The food looked similar to that served at breakfast, but there the resemblance ended. Bland and insipid were not qualities to tempt anyone to eat more than necessary.

'Probably a good thing,' Peteru muttered. 'If we ate like them we'd soon look like them.'

'You never know, a pot belly, pimples and love-handles might suit you.'

Peteru pushed his half-eaten plate away. 'They're suspicious,' he muttered abstractedly. 'I can sense it. Did you see the look Ishbel swapped with Fabien?'

'Yes. He's a nasty piece of work that one. And this had better be the last time we speak about any of this. He's not head of enforcement for nothing. We'll be under constant surveillance from now on, so button your lips. You really have no idea of diplomacy, have you?'

'What do you mean?'

'Every time you open your mouth you put your foot in it—you're either critical or handing out ridiculously exuberant praise. You are so transparent!'

'Mmm. Sorry. Lucky you're there to smooth troubled waters.'

'I don't think I soothed anything at the end. They just left us out there!'

'Too late now. Come on, let's get the stuff; mustn't keep the luscious Ishbel waiting—she fancies you.'

'Please tell me you're kidding!'

'She was drooling in lust while offering to take your sperm sample. Do you think you could screw her?'

'Have to find the hole first. Stop it, I feel sick. Come on!'

Ishbel's decision to keep all the engineering staff ignorant of the true purpose of what they were building was based on long experience. Even the most reliable and intelligent engineer is tempted to offer advice and even secretly make changes to plans if he knows the purpose. Too often an inventor's concept is corrupted by a would-be genius convinced he can improve on the design. However, when he has no idea what he's making he's forced to follow the plans to the letter.

Back in Ishbel's apartment, Peteru and Uretep entered drawings, plans and specifications into the central engineering computer. As Chief Engineer she wanted to maintain overall control. When everything was completed to Peteru's satisfaction, all three descended to the engineering level where Ishbel introduced them to the Aristocrats in charge of the project—short, pale, pinched Alger; and chunky, stolid Begum whose face gave as little clue to her sex as her body.

'Alger and Begum have the joint responsibility of organising the workforce, procuring all materials, and following your orders during the life of this project, which has temporarily replaced every other undertaking of the engineering department. At all times they will unquestioningly obey you both and follow your instructions and plans with one hundred percent accuracy,' Ishbel announced gravely before turning pokerfaced to her head engineers. 'No questions. No mistakes. Your life and that of everyone who works for you is on the line.'

Both bowed slightly. 'Yes, your Worship.'

'There is no limit on the numbers of people you may employ, or the amount of equipment you may use if it furthers the project and speeds up completion. Peteru and Uretep will oversee your work. Theirs will be the final word in any question or dispute no matter how trivial. You will not offer advice; only follow instructions. Do you understand the significance of that?'

Another bow. 'Yes, your Worship.'

Alger's blue eyes studied the young men coolly; Begum was unable to hold her tongue.

'But, your Worship! They're Vassals! You can't expect us to listen, let alone pay heed to their nonsense.'

Ishbel's smile was calculated to curdle blood. 'They are not Vassals.'

'But they're black! I can't. I really can't!'

'They are not black, they are dark brown and if you can't...' her sigh was theatrical, 'then so be it. You can't. There are several people ready to replace you—literally!'

Literally shaking with both fear and dismay, Begum threw herself on the floor at the Mage's feet, kissing them and grovelling until her face was thrust away with the toe of Ishbel's less that pristine sandal.

'How do we address these… people?' Alger asked in an attempt to divert his Chief's anger.

'By their names,' Ishbel grunted before turning and leaving them to it.

Tears were streaming when Begum hoisted herself upright, avoided her new bosses' eyes and left the room. Thoroughly chastened, Alger politely suggested they meet the rest of the team and start work.

Feeling slightly sick, Peteru and Uretep followed the engineers. They'd never met them before, yet even in front of Ishbel they'd treated their new bosses with contempt, proving what they'd recently realised, they looked like Vassals. Scientists who had known them their entire lives considered them not worthy of respect, and now engineers who'd never met them were doing the same. Such is the power of childhood indoctrination.

For the next three hours Alger, Begum and a dozen Freemen technicians studied the plans, nodded at explanations, and discussed every aspect of constructing the apparatus that would mass-produce the chips, mats, main computer and wireless terminals. Eventually Alger stood, grudgingly conceded it looked OK on the plans, and after a short consultation with Begum asked if it would be OK to start setting up the system first thing in the morning. Uretep and Peteru agreed and promised to be there.

It was too late to start visiting the rest of Oasis but too early to go to bed. They didn't want to be entertained. They wanted to do something, but for the first time in years they had nothing to do because NumbaCruncha was temporarily out of their hands.

'Let's check for surveillance bugs,' Uretep whispered in the corridor before returning to their apartment.'

Silently, they scanned every nook and cranny, and discovered fifteen new vidspots that would cover ninety percent of their rooms. Ten minutes later, interference programmes that would show a silent, empty room were disrupting any attempt to spy.

Satisfied they were safe for the present, and curious to test the Mages' story about their origins, Uretep cast caution to the ether and allowed himself to be persuaded to join Peteru on a visit to the virtual archives to see for himself the origins of their world.

Comfortable, on body-form divans they pulled soft black caps over their heads. Senses intertwined, darkened, then awareness of a vast, dim cavern hewn from the bedrock, walls lined with what were probably primitive electronic devices.

'These are what the Elite reckon are ancient toys brought by the first arrivals to keep their offspring quiet on the long voyage.' Peteru's thoughts were as clear as speech. 'Instead of humans coming from a less hostile planet in another galaxy and getting trapped here, the records in these gadgets prove the opposite. Everything's in chronological order and simple to hack into once you understand the process. Just focus your attention on the one furthest to the left and we'll soon skip through them.'

They focussed. Peteru unlocked the code and images flooded brains at speeds beyond comprehension—well beyond their power to process. An hour later they surfaced with barely enough energy to remove their caps. Levering themselves off the couches they went out into the corridor, remotely turned off the vidspot interference, then re-entered the apartment. For the next two hours they lay on their bed in a semi coma that looked as if they were sleeping as their brains processed the information.

After regaining consciousness they wolfed down a snack of algal nuts and fruit, then pretended to leave the apartment, remote starting the vidspot interference as they closed the door. Re-entering, they relaxed once more on their divans. With eyes closed and electrodes attached they shared and compared the sounds and visions unfolding in their heads as the history of their world was revealed…..

An incandescent sun blazed in a transparent blue sky as they swept over forests and water...

An hour later Uretep dragged off the electrodes and sighed softly. 'You were right. Humans evolved on this earth—but destroyed the environment in the vain hope of creating a better, safer, easier world. This life isn't natural—it's as unnatural at it's possible to imagine.'

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead