by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 7

New Oasis

The sun had just risen when a boxlike structure moving on large soft rollers, rounded the corner and stopped directly below the balcony in front of Ishbel's apartment. Wearing borrowed Mage cloaks, Peteru and Uretep climbed over the railing and dropped through a roof opening onto comfortable seats, then reached up to take two bundles; a small one containing fifteen enseemats and their terminals, and a large basket containing thirteen sets of Mage vestments so they'd have something to wear if they visited the new city.

Ishbel leaned over the railing. 'How are you planning to enter New Oasis,' she asked with a sneer. 'Surely you don't think we'd leave the place open to wild birds, bats, possums and dogs?'

They exchanged embarrassed glances. 'We never thought about it. How stupid is that?'

'Very stupid! But it's nice to know you're not perfect.

'We never thought we were.'

'Here, use this.' Ishbel dropped a small gold disc into Peteru's lap. 'It's a universal key that opens everything, and if you need to contact us, it grants direct vidcom access to our suites. Everything's working over there, so help yourselves to food and stuff.'

'Thanks, Ishbel.'

'Make sure you're back in three days! You will be needed at the presentation of NumbaCruncha.'

'We won't be needed, Ishbel, everything is programmed. The Mainframe needs no more instructions; every mat's been logged in, the chips are all pre-programmed, all you have to do is have them inserted, place the mats and terminals where we've indicated, ensure they're vandal proof, and number them clearly so everyone knows where their nearest one is and the numbers of the places they want to go to. As we wrote in the instruction notes, there must be an information screen beside every mat with a map showing every place people with that mat are permitted to go, and its corresponding number.'

'Nonetheless, you will be here! I want you two to instruct the Royal couple in their role as demonstrators.' Her face was swelling in annoyance.

'Of course we'll be here, Ishbel. Don't worry. We're your abject objects.'

The joke fell flat.

Her voice too was flat, as well as menacing, and there was no smile in the eyes. 'That's exactly what you are, and don't forget it!'

The pilotless solar powered vehicle was directed wirelessly from Augur's Transport bureau. The trip was uneventful, if a little bumpy, and on arrival at the equivalent of Ishbel's deck, they unloaded and the car immediately returned.

The gold disc worked and it was with some awe that they realised they were the sole inhabitants of the vast structure. They wandered around the luxurious quarters that would one day be Ishbel's, eventually arriving at windows facing the immense circular interior of the city. A hundred metres below, the concourse stretched into the distance. Unlike the original Oasis, the air was transparent, but distant apartments on the far side were still too tiny to make out details, which increased their awareness of the size of the place.

The soft hum of heat pumps and other energy generators permeated the structure. Hallways were illuminated and, according to Augur, the negrav chutes were working.

'Dare to try them?'

'No way. It wouldn't surprise me if Augur thought it would be a joke to turn them off while we're here.'

'We ought to go down and look around.'


'It's what we said we'd do.'

'No, we said we'd check the place out. Well, I've checked, and now I want to go for a walk.'

Uretep looked at Peteru and laughed loudly. 'So do I!'

But first we'd better put the Mages clothes and wigs in neat piles; can't have them getting angry at having to do something for themselves.'

'It's funny they can't accept being bald. As if a mouldy wig makes them look any better.'

'I'm surprised they didn't send over a few Vassals with us to prepare the place.'

They placed a mat for themselves on the floor of a small cupboard-like room down the hallway from the lounge, then spread thirteen mats and their terminals around, ready to receive the Mages if they decided to come. The last one they placed in a small backpack along with the original miniature terminal, a bottle of water, the gold disc and some algal biscuits they'd brought with them.

'I've just thought of something.'


'If we use the mat to return here, we'll leave our clothes and pack in the forest. We've no spare clothes, so how do we explain it if the Mages pay us a visit?'

'They probably won't, but it's an important point. We leave our clothes here then?'

'Yes. I don't think they'd approve of us taking a wander in the forest.'

'And if they arrive when we're not back?'

'We say we returned to our apartment in Oasis to check on something.'


They stripped, leaving their clothes in a heap beside the mat in the small room as if they'd been transported.

Back on the balcony they closed the door to the apartment, which locked automatically, then checked for wild dogs. Seeing none they dropped easily over the edge and set off across scraped bare earth towards the forest, a five-minute jog away.

Barely fifty paces into the trees they stopped, already too awed to speak or think; scarcely daring to breathe. After several minutes in which the atmosphere began to feel less alien, more neutral, they dared to whisper.

'It's huge!'

'And green.'

'And alive.'

'And I want to cry. It's so impressive. Majestic. I can't take it in.'

'These things. Plants. Trees! They're so tall! So massive! It's so cool and dim and…' Peteru ran out of words.

'And inspiring.'

'And look at the rope things; vines I think they're called! So thick we could climb them.'

'And up there! Red things; flowers. Look, look, look! This coloured thing flapping in the air! It's fantastic. I want to stay here forever.'

'Birds. Hear them? There must be millions. All different noises. And there'll be animals and… Argh!' Peteru slapped at his thigh. 'Blood…this worm thing was sucking my blood!' He tore a thick slug-like creature as fat as his finger from his leg. 'It's bitten a hole!'

'We sure aren't alone. Dare we go further?'

'Try to stop me. But let's keep an eye on each other as we go to check for any other nasties that fancy a bit of our flesh.'

'It's lucky we don't have to worry about losing track of where we are, I've already lost all sense of direction.'

'Me too. It's actually a bit nerve-wracking, isn't it? So much space. No walls. I don't know if I can go much further. Sorry to be such a wimp, but...'

'Yeah. I feel pretty much the same. But it'd be stupid to have got this far and then quit don't you reckon? Tell you what, let's make a quick trip back to check if NumbaCruncha really does work outside Oasis, and if it does then we're safe no matter what happens.'

'Thanks. I feel braver already.'

'Better take the disc in case we have to open a door.'

'Right.' Uretep popped it into his mouth while Peteru placed their mat on the ground. They stood on it, pressed their wrists and were instantly back where they came from, in the cupboard-like room. Complicit grins of relief plastered their faces. Courage replenished, they returned to the rainforest, picked up their mat and pack and continued bravely forcing their way through increasingly dense and sometimes thorny undergrowth.

The Forest

The two explorers stood and gazed in disbelief. Thirst, tired muscles, biting insects, scratches and bruises forgotten. They'd emerged from the trees at the crest of a grassy slope that descended to the most perfect sight any hot and tired man can see... a lake. Pristine. Sparkling in the sun. Reflecting the dense surrounding forest, sky and clouds. Water. The liquid of life.

Strenuous tramping outdoors through the heat of the day was very different from using fitness equipment in an air-conditioned gymnasium. They'd developed a raging thirst and had already drunk their scant supply, so the urge to race down and check if it was potable was strong. However, primeval caution overtook them. Like all creatures that enter a new, possibly hostile environment, they remained still and silent, carefully scanning the scene, hands shielding eyes from the glare of a sun that was already past its zenith and shining into their faces.

'Can you hear it?' Uretep whispered.


'Music. Singing.'

'Yes. More like chanting. Where?'

'There!' Uretep pointed to a small sandy beach.

Several men were standing waist deep in the sparkling liquid holding long slender sticks. One plunged his into the water and retrieved a wriggling object.

A hundred metres below the watchers, Jar frowned in concentration, hurled the spear, smiled and waded in to retrieve it. Back on shore he removed the wriggling trout, dashed its head on a rock to kill it, and tossed it into the woven kit bag with the others. From the corner of his eye he thought he saw a movement among the trees further up the slope. The air shimmered in the heat. A bird trilled a warning. He focussed on a spot just inside the shadows at the edge of the forest. Yes. Something moved. Two things. Standing on their hind legs staring down. Kangaroos? Too lean. He called softly to the others. They joined him, sharing his disquiet. There were few things unknown to them in the area.

'They're men,' Seb stated. 'Strangers. Come on.'

Dropping their spears they sprinted up the hill.

'We've been seen! They're coming after us!'

Fear forced Uretep and Peteru back into the forest where they lay flat on their bellies under a densely leafed, ground-hugging shrub. Hoping they were invisible, they remained utterly still while studying their pursuers through slitted eyes with increasing astonishment. The men were like robust editions of themselves—naked, hairless, wiry and lithe with obviously powerful but not excessive musculature. Strong, lean legs and taut firm buttocks. Skins ranging from shiny black to mid brown. Eyes, heads, posture, alert. Nostrils quivered slightly. One tilted his head as if to listen. The fugitives scarcely dared breathe, although for some inexplicable reason their stalkers didn't seem dangerous.

One of the hunters sniffed. 'I smell fear.'

The man who'd been listening, pointed, and seconds later the bush concealing their quarry was surrounded by a dozen bare, brown, tough-looking feet that had obviously never worn shoes.

'It's OK. We're friends. Come out.' The words clipped and oddly accented as if the speaker wasn't in the habit of wasting his breath. The voice was deep, setting up a vibration in Uretep's chest.

Shamefacedly, Uretep and Peteru scrambled to their feet, unaware of blood from new scratches, some of which were quite deep. They dusted themselves off and approached, self-consciously aware of the difference in their bodies. They'd thought they were fit, but beside these broad-shouldered, powerful gods they felt like runts.

The deep voiced man stepped forward and stood facing them, gazing into their eyes alternately as if in search of something. So close they could feel his body heat. Suddenly he reached out both arms and firmly cupped each young man's scrotum in large callused palms. A reflex attempt to retreat was painfully arrested when the other fellow remained still. Continuing to gaze into their eyes he slid coarse fingers along the smooth skin between scrotum and anus.

'Sapiens,' he announced with a dismissive shake of his head, releasing his grip and turning back to his friends who muttered among themselves.

'Where are you from and what are you doing here?' asked one of the men whose skin was as black as the deepest shadow. 'Speak honestly.' He said this calmly, but two hearts hammered in alarm nonetheless.

Attempting to keep encroaching panic from his voice, Uretep said as clearly as he could manage, 'We are from the underground city in the large clearing about three hours walk from here.'

'Three hours? You're either lying or you've been walking in circles. It's no more than a ten-minute jog. Tell the truth!'

'We are! It took us three hours, but we didn't know where we were going. It's hard to go in a straight line. Honestly, this is the first time we have ever left Oasis so we didn't know we weren't allowed here. We're not enemies!'

'So you say,' said a tall man with amused eyes. 'You'd hardly tell us if you intended to slash our throats.'

'We wouldn't…'

The man who'd been first up the hill stepped forward and stared into their anxious eyes for several long seconds. 'I'm Jar,' he said coolly, before stepping back and indicating the other five men with a broad sweep of his powerful arm. 'Now show your self to the others.'

The two visitors gazed for several seconds into the eyes of each of the fishermen, feeling each time as if their deepest secrets were being extracted. In that environment filled with the sense of untamed, natural life, it seemed an instinctive yet oddly rational way to greet a stranger.

Inspection over, Jar studied the captives. 'You're both bleeding—scratches—nothing serious, but you'd better get cleaned up before infection finds them.'

'Hungry?' the questioner was the man with the deep voice who'd spoken first; an attractive, friendly face with a permanent smile

'Yes! And thirsty.'

'Come on then. I'm Seb.'

'I'm Uretep and he's Peteru.'


Overtaken by a nervous desire to please, Uretep began a detailed response. 'Different eggs and sperm, but the same donors we think. We've had identical genetic modification so that's probably why we look similar and...' His voice trailed away in embarrassment.

Seb frowned and shook his head slightly as if distracted, then led them down to the lake where the proximity of so much clear water sparkling in the sunlight had them transfixed in astonishment.

'Not going in?' someone asked with a grin. 'I'm Leo.'

'It seems too perfect to pollute. My body's so scratched and dirty.'

'It's self cleaning so you can also drink it, come on!' Leo raced past them and dived cleanly into the water, not surfacing until he was about fifty metres out. Both Peteru and Uretep had used the pool in their gymnasium, so could swim, but they'd never been out of their depth. With a shout of delight they hurled themselves into the limpid liquid, leaping up immediately.

'It's cold! It's refreshing! It's perfect!'

Only the irresistible odour of fish roasting on the fire was able to extricate them from a bliss they'd never dreamed of. Weightlessness in water so clean and fresh it was drinkable. Never before had they tasted anything like it.

'To drown in this lake would be a pleasure, not a punishment,' Uretep laughed as he shook off the water and joined everyone around a small fire where the smell of roast trout introduced the ecstatic visitors to a sensation they hadn't realised humans possessed—the joy of eating unadulterated fresh food in a totally natural environment—not an artificial object in sight.

Hunger and thirst quenched with succulent fish, wild herbs and clear spring water, cuts and scratches rubbed with the glutinous sap from long leathery leaves that grew at the edge of the lake, they sat in a circle while the fishermen plied them with questions.

Imagining, because of their apparently simple life, that these wild and powerful men would be mentally simple like Vassals, the two visitors spoke slowly and used uncomplicated words to explain everything; failing to notice the sly smiles.

'So, You live in a big hole in the ground. Who with?'

'A large number of people—very, very large.'

'Are they all like you, or are some of them educated enough to explain where you come from?

'What do you mean?'

'Do they understand technology and can they use big words?'

The six men burst out laughing at the perplexed expressions on their visitors' faces.

'We're educated. We're probably the best educated people in Oasis.' Uretep and Peteru were becoming nervous. There was an edge to their hosts' laughter that warned them not to take their situation too lightly.

'What are you hiding?' A command, not a question.

'Nothing! We're…'

'Then why are you prevaricating? We may have asked a simple question, but that doesn't mean we want a simple answer. Why are you spying on us!'

'We're not spying. We didn't know you existed until we saw you from up there. We thought we were the only humans on earth.'

'What's in that bag?' Seb put out his hand.

Reluctantly Peteru handed it over. 'Please be careful.'

Seb upended it. The black enseemat, tiny computer, gold disc and empty water flask fell out.

'What's this?' Seb held up the mat.

'You wouldn't understand.'

Jar's face was unrecognisable. He grasped Uretep by the throat and snarled, 'Sidestep a question once more and you're dead, along with your mate. Answer the question!'

While Uretep massaged his aching throat, Peteru explained the exact nature and purpose of the mat. Instead of faces blank with incomprehension and disbelief, the six listeners nodded and allowed Seb to place it carefully on the ground.

'Show us your wrists.'

They did so. Everyone fingered the tiny sliver of metal that protruded.

'Demonstrate.' Seb snapped. 'You return to wherever you came from, and then come back here. Uretep stays with us.'


'Go, Peteru. These men aren't the enemy, and even if they were there's nothing we could do about it. Just go!'

'Peteru looked around, took a deep breath, stood on the pad, whispered into the terminal, touched his wrist, and disappeared.

The silence lasted twenty seconds.

'Impressive,' someone remarked when Peteru reappeared on the mat sporting a proud erection. 'What's the reason for your arousal?'

Uretep explained.

'Do you guys enjoy sex together?'


'And that's OK back in your underground city?'


'Because you're randy or because you love each other?' The questioner was unsmiling and Uretep wondered if it was safe to tell the truth.

Bravely he thrust out his chest and said clearly, 'Both.'

Smiles all round.

'Love is good,' Jar said softly. 'Perhaps you aren't planning on exterminating us after all.'

'No! No. We think you're wonderful! Honestly. Sorry about the misunderstanding, it's just that…'

'Yes, thanks. That's enough. We get the message. You're both good guys.'

Deflated, Uretep turned to Peteru. 'Were the Mages there?'

'No, everything was undisturbed. I reckon they won't visit today.'

'Good, because we need you to remain with us for a while—we have a few more questions,' Jar announced firmly, his face disturbingly inquisitorial.

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