by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 9

The Royal Couple

The gold disc allowed access to the negrav chute that ascended directly to the royal suite where a Vassal conducted them to a large, impressively furnished reception room. Despite their new robes and hoods they couldn't help feeling a trifle nervous when an internal door opened to admit the most handsome man either had ever seen. In his early thirties, he was about twenty centimetres taller than his visitors, perfectly proportioned, flawless skin like burnished blue-black ebony, wearing a short sleeveless tunic of a coarse material that barely reached mid thigh. He padded forward on bare feet and stood a metre in front of his guests, mutely questioning. A perfectly symmetrical body exuding power, health and vigour. Only the eyes appeared lost, vague and unsure.

'They told me you'd be coming.' The voice was rich, deep, and sad. The smile slightly bewildered. Childlike. Nervous. 'Please don't hurt me. I've been as good as I can.'

On a sudden impulse Uretep threw back his hood and wrapped his arms around the Emperor in a friendly hug. Recollecting himself he stepped back, unsure if he'd transgressed some protocol that might jeopardise their plan. His worries were groundless. The Emperor's nervous smile became a wide grin of delight. He enveloped Uretep in powerful arms, then did the same to Peteru who had also discarded his hood.

'Why have you never visited me before?' he asked, excited as a child. 'No one ever hugs me or is nice to me, they're all stiff and boring and tell me what to do all the time and I don't like them.' Placing hands on both their shoulders as if frightened they'd go away, he continued excitedly, 'I thought you'd be like the other Mages, but you're nice! I can tell by looking at you that you won't hurt me.'

'You're nice too, Emperor,' Peteru smiled gently, 'and we certainly will not hurt you. In fact we were worried you'd be difficult to talk to because you're so important.'

'My name's Calisto,' he said modestly. 'Please don't call me Emperor. I wish I'd never been elected. It's horrible.'

'What about the Empress?'

'She's the most horrible. She hates me because I'm a Vassal. Calls me dirty names. I'm glad she lives in her own palace.'

'But when you're together you both look so happy.'

'That's because if we don't we're punished.' He turned and lifted his tunic to expose recently healed scars across both buttocks. They did this to me because I wouldn't do something. I forget what it was. They used a hot iron thing.'

'But that's terrible!' both young men were horrified.

'The worst thing is being lonely. I miss my best friend. I've no one to talk to and laugh with and…' tears streamed down the handsome cheeks.

'What's the name of your friend?' Peteru asked.


'Where's your vidcom?'

Calisto pointed.

The gold disc ensured instant connection to Melvyn. 'What do you want?' he snapped.

'Melvyn, you're the bloke in charge of propaganda, so I turn to you for assistance. In the interests of a happy resolution to the Emperor's speech at the unveiling of NumbaCruncha, I need the Vassal Philo sent to the royal apartments immediately. Thanks.' He disconnected before Melvyn could ask questions.

The Vidcom bleeped. 'Don't you hang up on me you…' Melvyn's face was purple.

'If you can't do it, then I'll try Ishbel,' Peteru said pleasantly.

Melvyn disconnected, and three minutes later a servant shoved into the room an extremely nervous, rather ordinary looking Vassal of about the same age as the Emperor, dressed in stained overalls. Without looking up he fell on his face and whimpered.

Calisto raced forward, pulled him to his feet and wrapped him in his arms. 'Philo, it's me.'

Philo looked up. A smile of astonished relief split his face. 'Calisto!'

'The Emperor grinned and nuzzled at his lover's ears, nose, eyes and lips, unfazed by the presence of the two Mages who had replaced their hoods.

Suddenly realising what was happening, Philo pulled back in alarm and threw himself at their feet. 'Forgive me, your worships. I am just so happy to see my friend I…'

Uretep pulled him upright. 'Philo, it pleases us to see you both happy.'

'Can he stay?' Calisto asked without much hope.'

'Do you love each other? Uretep asked, trying to sound as cool as Seb when asking him the same question in the forest the previous day.

The Emperor's eyes glazed as if confused, then as if daring the Mages to do their worst, said simply, 'Yes... if what I feel is love.'

'Then he can stay, but he can't be seen with you in public.'

'Why can't he be the Emperor's bodyguard?' Peteru suggested.

'He's already got one.'

'I hate him. He fucks the Empress and tells her everything about me.'

'Then that's settled. You can dismiss him.'

Learning the short speech that would explain NumbaCruncha to the multitudes took less than ten minutes. Calisto only had to hear a sentence twice before it was committed to memory. When complimented he seemed surprised. All Vassals do that; we can't read, so we remember. Philo will have remembered it too.' He turned to his friend. 'Come on, Philo, show them.'

Shyly at first, then with increasing confidence Philo repeated the entire speech word perfect with identical emphasis.

'What do you think the people will say, Calisto?'

'About what?'

'The contents of the speech.'

'Oh, I've only learned it, I haven't thought about what it means.' He turned to Philo. 'You're cleverer than me at understanding things. Tell me what it's about.'

Eyes wide, Philo looked as if ready to run. 'I...I can't! The gods will kill me.'

'They won't, Philo. We are the representatives of the gods and, as the Chief Mage will explain at the Arena, this message comes directly from them. Come on, what's it about? In different words though, not the ones you've memorised. Imagine you're Calisto explaining it to other Vassals.'

After a deep breath and a stuttering start, Philo spoke slowly and carefully. 'The Chief Mage has just told you that Domino and Domina have given us a new way to move around Oasis. It is safe and happens at once and will make everyone very happy and feel sexy and you'll also be naked. But that's OK because the gods don't want us to wear clothes any more. Also, men and women have to fuck every day, because when a man puts his rod into a woman's hole and pumps until it squirts, it causes her to grow a new person in her belly, called a baby, and the gods want us to make as many babies as we can.' He stopped, confused. 'Calisto and I squirt into each other's holes sometimes, but we don't have babies.'

'That's a different hole. Women have a third hole in the middle, so only they can have babies.'

'But most men I know squirt into women sometimes and they haven't had babies.'

'That's because Domino and Domina prevented it from happening. But please go on, you haven't finished explaining Calisto's speech.'

'Sorry.' Philo visibly collected his thoughts. 'Then the Empress and I will show you all how to use the new way of moving around Oasis, and then I will put my rod into her and fuck, pumping until I squirt so everyone can see that it is the right thing to do.' Philo stopped and thought. 'Ah yes, then he says, Domino and Domina be with you.'

'Excellent, Philo.'

'Calisto was frowning. 'I'm worried I won't be able to do it. I don't like the Empress, she's always bossy and rude and tells me I'm useless because I can't get stiff with her.'

'You only have to do it once to solve a huge problem the Mages have. You see, as the most important person in Oasis, you are the only person who can help them.'

'I don't want to help them.'

'Yes you do.'

'What's their problem?'

'Convincing ordinary people to believe they have to be naked everywhere and have sex frequently. As you know, it's always been forbidden in public. But if they see the Emperor and Empress naked on the stage having sex in public, then they will believe it is the right thing to do. It is your duty as Emperor to show the way for your subjects. They elected you and admire you. Trust me—no one else in Oasis could do it.'

Calisto's chest swelled visibly at the thought of having such power. Then he frowned. 'But my rod never gets hard with her! That's why she hates me.'

'Believe me, it will get hard, and you will feel like doing it with her.' Let me show you the new way of moving.

Uretep placed two mats at one end of the room and a second pair at the other, a good twenty metres away. Then he and Peteru stood on the mats, whispered a number into their terminals, touched their wrists and before their cloaks and tunics hit the ground they were standing on the mats at the other end. Calisto and Philo were staring in astonishment at the now empty mats.

'We're here,' Peteru called.

Their audience turned, speechless.

'Now it's your turn.'

'You're naked!'

'Yes, it feels much better. More natural.'

'And your rods are hard.'

'Yes. And it feels great. Come on. Give me your wrists.'

To disobey two Mages who could fly invisibly through the room was unthinkable, so they both accepted the implant, stood on the enseemats, whispered the number into the computer held by Uretep, touched their wrists and appeared at the other end of the room. After gazing for at least two seconds in astonished lust at each other's arousal, they sank to the floor and caressed, kissed, fondled and eventually brought each other to orgasm.

Touched by such a captivating expression of love, Uretep and Peteru also took pleasure in each other's bodies, amused when they surfaced to see Calisto and Philo squatting in front of them, shaking their heads in wonderment.

'We didn't know Mages were so beautiful. And you also love each other.'

'Yes, that's why we understand you. So, did you enjoy the experience?'

Calisto heaved a great sigh and failed to wipe off the silly grin. 'Yes.' He rubbed his hand over his head. 'Where's my hair? You too!' he shouted at Philo. 'We're both bald. Down here too,' he whispered looking down. 'You didn't tell us about that.'

'Does it worry you? Your hair was so short I can hardly see the difference. What about you, Philo?'

'I don't care about anything if I can be with Calisto.'

'You're still feeling sexy, I see.'

Calisto giggled boyishly. 'He's always feeling sexy with me. Is it like this every time?'

'Yes, so if you and the Empress transport at the same time, she'll also feel sexy and you'll easily be able to shove your rod into her.'

He frowned. 'But she won't want me to.'

'I guarantee she will. Come on, let's go to her apartment so she can hear your speech and get used to the idea, then I'll teach her how to use the new transportation, and you can both make the crossing together like you did with Philo, after which you will shove your rod into her until you're satisfied.'

'Can Philo come too?'

'He's now your bodyguard, so of course.' Uretep turned to Philo. 'As long as you don't get jealous when you see Calisto with the woman.'

'Of course not,' Philo said with a frown. 'Calisto is only doing his work.'

'Very sensible. And don't tell her you're lovers because she will tell everyone she sees and that will spoil Calisto's image as a potent Emperor.'


'Now, we must all put on our clothes; something impressive for you Calisto, and Philo in whatever a bodyguard wears. Oh, and wear hoods or hats so she doesn't get suspicious about your lack of hair. Definitely don't tell her you've already transported.'

Empress Agnes was a striking, big-bosomed, narrow-waisted woman in her thirties with bleached blond ringlets and small eyes that seemed too close together. An elaborately embroidered gown exaggerated her tiny waist and generous hips while exposing a cleavage deep enough to burrow into. In an effort to look as pale as a Mage, Agnes had painted all her exposed skin deathly white, as if she'd been suffering a severe nausea attack. A large and powerful bodyguard in a rough tunic stood protectively behind the chaise longue on which she reclined in exaggerated languor. She extended a hand as if expecting it to be kissed.

The two Mages in their cloaks of power drew themselves up with assumed anger. 'On your feet, woman!' Peteru snapped. 'Kneel and kiss my sandal.'

Astonished, the woman leaped to her feet and prostrated herself.

We have a message from Gods Domino and Domina,' Uretep intoned. 'Sit and listen carefully to your Emperor who will repeat to you the speech he will deliver at the next grand assembly.'

The Empress sniggered.

'If you wish to be alive tomorrow, I suggest you show your Emperor the respect he deserves,' Peteru snarled with such venom that the woman burst into tears, kneeled and begged forgiveness. 'Shut up, woman, and listen!' He nodded to Calisto who cleared his throat and declaimed his speech with all the majesty one would expect from a grand seigneur.

At the conclusion the poor Empress looked even paler than before.

'Naked!' she screeched. 'Forgive me your worships, but surely that cannot be? The Empress can never appear naked before her people.'

'You can and will. Furthermore, to demonstrate to your people that the gods are serious, you and the Emperor will have sexual intercourse in front of the entire population.'

Her eyes widened. 'Not with that Vassal…'

'Silence woman unless you want your reign terminated immediately! That is not all. Before the public sexual act you and your Emperor will demonstrate the new transportation system.' Peteru signalled to Philo who placed mats at either end of the large room.

'Agnes,' Uretep said gently, 'I am going to implant a tiny piece of silver in your wrist to enable you to use the new transportation. It is totally painless. Give me your arm.'

'Please… no,' she wailed.

'Your body guard will tell you it is painless,' he said quietly, beckoning to the guard who held out his arm as if uninterested, and didn't flinch.

Rigid with fear, eyes staring in horror, Agnes watched when it was done to her, relaxing slightly when it didn't hurt. Uretep then led her by the hand to the far enseemats where Calisto joined her. As soon as Peteru told them what to whisper into the computer, they touched their wrists, disappeared, and materialised at the far end of the room.

The bodyguard shouted in alarm, stared around wildly, then stared in mute astonishment at his mistress. Without the ridiculous hair, dress and makeup, Agnes was a very attractive woman—warm brown glossy skin, pert posture and a lustful look in the eye. Calisto, although aroused, remained abstracted until Agnes dragged him on top of her on the floor, legs wide and high—a funnel for lust that led the Emperor's rod straight to the target. After less than a minute of vigorous thrusting he growled deeply, arched his back shot his load and clambered off, returning to Philo.

'More! More!' Agnes whimpered. 'I need more!'

Peteru led her bodyguard to the far mat, and two seconds later he was doing his best to satisfy his mistress.

The Emperor, his lover and the two Mages quietly left them to it, preferring not to be around when the Empress discovered she was bald.

'Do you still doubt your ability to perform with Agnes in front of the entire population?'

A satisfied grin. 'I can't wait to do it.'

'All done,' Peteru said cheerfully on returning to Ishbel's apartment. 'The Emperor is word perfect and impatient to demonstrate both NumbaCruncha and his sexual prowess in front of the multitudes whenever required.'

'You have a way with these lower castes, don't you? Quite the diplomat.' Ishbel said as if delivering an insult.

'I guess we have more in common with them than our skin colour,' Peteru said a little too sharply.

Ishbel's colour rose; she did not like her insults to be parried. 'When will everything be ready?'

'Book the announcement and demonstration for directly after midday in four day's time. Everyone will have an implant in their wrists by then, all enseemats and number directories are already in position, and by tomorrow every seat in the Arena will be ready and allocated. All that's left to do is ensure everyone knows the number of their home mat so that once the Emperor's speech and demonstration is complete, they can transport themselves home.'

'But will they continue to use it, or just go back to the negrav chutes? They're creatures of habit, you know.'

'To reinforce the lesson, we could order the entire population to assemble two hours later in Central Park, and temporarily shut down the negrav chutes to make sure they use NumbaCruncha. After that, I'm sure they'll always use it, in the process lowering the city's energy consumption.'

'Do you think one demonstration in the Arena will be enough though?' Ishbel appeared oddly insecure.

'No, I think we should have one other couple, preferably Aristocrats.'

Ishbel's laugh was genuine. 'I was thinking of you and Uretep.'

'Sure, no worries,' Uretep agreed, to Ishbel's surprise. 'If you think it's a good idea to promote two black men having sex?'

'Of course not! We want them to breed!'

'Like I said, what you really need is a couple of Aristocrats. Everyone knows the royal couple are a Vassal and a Freemen, so the Aristocrats could become rebellious unless one of them is also seen to transport and then enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.'

Ishbel's lip curled in amused suspicion. 'I presume you have someone in mind?'

'How'd you guess? Let's reward Alger and Begum. They've been in command of the project, so it's fitting that they should be rewarded for all their hard work by proving that Aristocrats also can fuck like cockroaches.'

'Were they very objectionable?' Ishbel asked innocently.

'At times.'

'Then so be it, will you tell them or shall I?'

'The honour would be greater coming from you, your worship.'

Ishbel burst into hearty laughter. 'That's the first time I've laughed properly for what seems like years. I'm growing to like you two.'

'And we like you too Ishbel,' Peteru responded, deciding that as she was obviously deranged and dangerously violent it would be unwise to remind her that she'd been urinating on him only that morning. 'But we've had a gruelling day, so we'd like to turn in early if that's OK with you.'

'It's only mid afternoon! But I suppose compared to me you're both still babies. Maybe it is a sensible idea to get a good rest, in case there are problems to solve between now and the grand unveiling.

Back in their own apartment Peteru shook his head in frustration. 'I'm feeling sorry for Calisto and Philo. They're excellent men. I can't bear to think that in a couple of years they'll be tossed down a chute like garbage.'

'Perhaps we can arrange something less horrible?'

'Were you thinking of…?'

'I imagine so. But its getting late and we have a rendezvous.'

The Men Tell All

The place was deserted when Peteru and Uretep arrived beside the flat boulder on which they'd sat the previous night.

'Smell the air,' Uretep whispered. 'I feel so alive!'

'I feel randy.' Peteru grinned lecherously. 'I thought I'd got used to arriving somewhere with a hard on, but this is different.' He pulled a very willing Uretep onto the smooth mossy ground between the boulders.

'The Men might come back.'

'Do you think they'll mind?'

'Don't care if they do'

Their lovemaking was gentle, passionate, and totally absorbing—a release from tensions that had been mounting for weeks, so it was a surprise on resurfacing to realise the Men had arrived on silent feet and were gazing down speculatively.

'Welcome back,' Bel's deep voice said softly with the hint of a smile.

The two visitors sat up in consternation. 'Sorry, we…'

'Nothing to be sorry about.'

'We were only…'

'You were only expressing your deep and eternal friendship,' Bel interrupted with a cheeky grin. 'We had a meeting this morning to discuss you, your information and your situation.' He paused dramatically.

'And.?' The nervous fear that seemed to have accompanied Peteru all his life came surging back, drowning his newfound joy in living. Didn't these Men take him seriously? Was it all just a joke to them?

'And we have decided to take the risk of believing you for the present.'

Both young men's shoulders sagged in relief. 'Thank goodness!'

Seb nodded brusquely and continued. 'It is not a risk we would normally take; our rule is to prevent all sapiens from leaving their settlements and entering the forest. If your enforcers, as you call them, hadn't murdered the people who tried to escape, we would have killed them anyway.'

'We understand.'

'Do you? I hope so. Are you hungry?'

'No, thanks, but we'd love a drink of water.'

'There's a calabash beside you.'

'How thoughtful.'

'The air's very hot and dry. That makes you thirstier than you realise, and that's dangerous. Drink while we settle, help yourselves to anti-bug paste, then ask your questions.'

They drank the delicious cool water, applied insect repellent, conferred for the few minutes it took everyone to get seated, then Uretep asked, 'What risk do sapiens pose?'

'They are unable to live sustainably. To preserve the natural environment, we use only handmade tools from naturally available materials, and eat only what we gather and obtain by hunting, not farming. We maintain our population at a level that can be sustained by the environment. Some sapiens might want to live like that, may even try, but their evolutionary conditioning will never allow them to succeed. When the going gets tough—drought, difficult hunting, severe weather, looming starvation... they'll gather in ever larger communities, start agriculture, make war on competitors, and revert to the same natural wasteful, destructive behaviour as all the other animals that evolved alongside them—setting off another destructive cycle that will probably destroy all life next time, turning the planet into just another sterile rock hurtling through space.'

'Depressing picture. But I don't understand why agriculture is bad.'

'It requires the destruction of natural systems. Monoculture encourages disease. Evaporation from irrigation wastes precious water. Pesticides and herbicides poison everything. The list of evils is long and damning. Suffice it to say that agriculture is the number one destructive force, followed by medical advancements that allow the weak to survive. Without those two things and their tools, sapiens populations would never have gotten out of control.'

'Surely they can learn from their mistakes?'

'Have your Mages learned after a thousand years? The sad truth is that sapiens, like all evolved animals, are not able to override their evolutionary imperatives.'

'But we're different. We'd be able to live like you.'

'What's different about you?'

'I reckon our evolutionary imperatives were deleted during our genetic makeover. And we haven't been brainwashed to believe any one thing is good, bad, right or wrong. We've been left to think for ourselves with no preconceptions. We're the only people in Oasis who are able to look at things dispassionately, think about them and change our minds when new facts emerge. We bear no resemblance to the Mages! After comparing your life with life in Oasis, we understand that yours is the only way to live that will not destroy nature.'

'Not indoctrinated eh? That's a first—if it's true. Sapiens have always indoctrinated their offspring with irrational dogma because it's an efficient means of controlling them. If the controllers had been wise and good it might have worked, but they've always been even crazier than the people they want to lead. If you brainwash people so they can believe the unbelievable, then they have no hope of extricating themselves from problems their beliefs have caused—such as the notion that Earth's resources are inexhaustible.'

'That's so obvious I can't believe anyone has ever thought anything so stupid.'

'It's the sole reason for the collapse of their civilization. But if you haven't been indoctrinated there may be hope for you.'

The novelty and pleasure of discussing and talking about their ideas with other intelligent and articulate men dispersed all the visitors' remaining nervousness.

'You call us sapiens,' Uretep said. 'I guess you mean Homo sapiens. That means you aren't. So what are you and where do you originate?'

'About a thousand years ago some very smart geneticists made substantial genetic changes to carefully selected foetuses and produced a new species, which they called Homo novus, new man. But as we're no longer new, we simply call ourselves Men. It will be up to whatever intelligent species follows us, if there is one, to give us a more descriptive name. Calling themselves Homo sapiens was the height of arrogance, and totally erroneous. Sapiens means knowing or wise, but nothing less wise has ever evolved. We call them sapiens as a sick joke.'

'What would you call them?'

'Homo toolmaker. Their sole claim to fame is making ever more complicated tools to destroy the environment in which they evolved. Your NumbaCruncha is just a tool to make travel easier and faster so they can destroy quicker. Metal knives are just tools to make cutting easier. Wireless is just a tool to speed up communication. Their greatest inventive efforts were spent on tools to murder, maim and destroy other humans in their eternal wars. The brains of Homo sapiens remain geared to the identical survival instincts of all other animals. They breed copiously and pay no heed to the environmental damage they do when building shelters, defending their territory, finding food, feeding, drinking, excreting or keeping themselves clean. Urbanised sapiens behave identically to caged animals; they neglect their young, foul their nests, pick fights, get depressed and sick. Not much wisdom in that sort of behaviour.'

'I agree. But you used spears and knives to kill and cut up the boar—they're tools.'

'The spears are sharpened wooden sticks, hardened in a fire we made with friction using our own muscles. Several species of birds and primates use such simple tools. Our knives are sharp stones, also used by some birds and primates. Unlike other animals, however, we take great pains not to disrupt the environment. You saw us extinguish the fire and put everything back as it was before we left the lake. That's because we are aware of our effect on the planet and try to minimise it, while other animals are not troubled by such notions. If we have to rely on our own strength and energy to survive, then forests, rivers, seas, animals and birds are safe from destruction.'

'Yes. I can see that,' Peteru said dreamily. 'The Mages couldn't have destroyed the forest and blasted gigantic holes to house Oasis without their tools, so they'd have died out long ago.' He nodded to himself and remained silently thinking.

Uretep continued the questioning. 'As you know, we've also been genetically modified, but we're still sapiens. What's the difference between you Men and us? We look the same.'

'We are dual sexed—male and female in one body.'


'What is the most powerful natural urge of every living thing?'

'To live?'

'To procreate.'

'Of course you're right. I wasn't thinking.'

'The female sapiens has to be protected and provided for when she is incubating and nurturing a child, which will need protection for many years. To ensure this, both males and females obey overpowering instincts to provide shelter and food, no matter the cost. To avoid failing in this essential requirement, sapiens have not been provided with a mental 'switch' to turn off these evolutionary imperatives. The result is that sapiens breed till there's standing room only, eat till they die of obesity, and accumulate goods until all resources are exhausted and the planet is unable to support them.' Seb paused to drink from a calabash.

Murmurs of agreement and serious nodding heads were clear indications that all the Men were very concerned about Oasis and its hordes of sapiens.

Leo took up the story. 'Uncontrolled evolutionary imperatives like that don't matter with other animals, because without clever tools they are the prey of accidents, disease and other large animals. That means there's a limit to how much they can accumulate and store, and how many other species they can eliminate. These limits ensure there's a seesawing survival of both plant and animal species, and thus the huge variety of essential environmental conditions that permit the evolution of new species, will increase.'

'The problem is the way sapiens brains are wired,' Seb continued. 'There have always been a few wise sapiens able to see the error of their ways and who have done their best to spread ideas about how humans should live, but they've never been listened to. Childhood brainwashing by religions and schools have seen to that. Even when disaster loomed and their civilization began crumbling they couldn't comprehend the notion that more than enough is too much, let alone translate that idea into actions that might have saved them. Evolved instincts have always prevented them from acting on self-evident wisdom. Instead of living with nature they increased the use of powerful tools powered by fossil fuels. They eliminated all competing species of plant and animal and reshaped the face of the planet. It took them only a couple of centuries to release into the atmosphere billions of tons of carbon that had taken hundreds of millions of years to be tucked away as coal, oil and gas. This had the effect of returning the atmosphere to its ancient state of violent storms, floods, droughts, permanent instability and great danger for all life.'

'Is it still like that?'

'Of course. It's going to take millions of years, not a mere thousand to restore some climatic stability. You've been fortunate to have visited us during one of the quiet weather patterns.'

Peteru sat forward abruptly. 'Maybe it wasn't so odd. The Mages must know about the weather, that's why they're in such a rush to move everyone across, severe storms will further damage the already weakened structures.'

'Sounds plausible.'

'So you're not solely the product of evolution; you were modified by geneticists. But someone very wise must have had the idea—it means there were some humans who weren't too bad. Was he also a scientist?' Uretep's mind remained fixed on the conundrum of whether he was Homo sapiens or something else, and if he should feel ashamed if he was.

'No, they were simply two sensible, down to earth men—Sebastian and Jarek; two of the few Homo sapiens who deserved the species name. Determined to do something about the problem of human irrationality, they consulted other wise people and decided to engineer self-fertile hermaphrodites with a "stop switch" that could override irrational behaviour. To achieve this, they funded a well-equipped secret laboratory, and invited the best geneticists and technicians they could find. After several years, our progenitors were created.'

'Why would they do that?'

'To save non-human life on the planet from extinction. To stop earth becoming a barren rock, like Mars. Sapiens may have failed last time to destroy all life on Earth, but given a second chance they'd have succeeded. Those wise and brave men entrusted us with ensuring Homo sapiens never again became top of the pecking order. For the last thousand years every time it seemed as if there might be a resurgence of Homo sapiens in any area, we Men prevented it.'

'In the light of what we've recently learned, that was wise.' Peteru said thoughtfully. 'Homo sapiens has behaved like a disease—a plague that must be exterminated.'

'What exactly is this 'stop switch' you mentioned?' Uretep asked.

'The ability to override instinctive reactions and reflexes if they get in the way of rational decisions. Reflexes are vital if we're faced with sudden danger, but they're a problem when there's time to think. Sapiens can never override the primeval urge to breed, store, and increase their possessions. Our brain is different, and can override 'gut feelings' or instincts if they're no longer necessary, leaving us free to base our actions on reality, facts and observation. We not only understand the principle that more than enough is too much, but base our lives on it.'

'How much is enough?'

'Excellent question! We can easily make or find shelter that's adequate. We have few problems hunting and gathering enough food, and there aren't many dangers we can't cope with or escape from using only our own strength and simple tools. That means our own strength is enough. If we're warm and dry, that's enough. And as we can work out how many Men are able to live off an area of forest or plain without upsetting the balance, we maintain a stable population that is enough and no more.'

'Yes, yes, yes,' Peteru repeated softly to himself before looking up with a huge grin. 'Like you said, the problem is the way sapiens brains are wired! Yes! That's it! It explains why the Mages are determined to cover the planet in cities like Oasis. They certainly have no 'stop button' when it comes to food and sex and desire for power. And they are determined never to die. Horrible.'

'What are the Mages like when they're together?'

'They're insane! Always bickering and arguing. Not surprising I guess as they've been living together for about a thousand years.'

'And everyone else? Are they also sex mad and greedy?'

'No chance of that when for hundreds of years everyone's been medicated to chemically sterilise them and lower their sex drive. They only have sexual intercourse occasionally, and then mainly out of friendship or boredom, according to what we've recently learned. Every Vassal and Freemen dresses the same, works long hours, is fed a minimum balanced diet and shares ablutions, so they don't have the opportunity to consume more than what's required to keep them alive. The Mages have sex with their slaves all the time, they're sex mad.' Peteru shook his head in disgust. 'You should see them after they've been transported by NumbaCruncha! No, on second thoughts, you shouldn't, its nauseating.'

'Do males and females get on well together?'

'Until recently, but since the sex-suppressant drugs have been withheld, there have been flare-ups between them.'

'Probably long suppressed evolutionary desires for babies are emerging and females are seeking mates. They can be aggressively competitive, apparently.'

'But you guys have none of those tensions I suppose,' Peteru asked.

'Right again,' Seb grinned. 'With both sexes in the same body, tensions disappear. The male is also the female so there's no worry about support for a child. There's no wife to egg her man on to gain more money and a better a bigger house; no competition and jealousy among wives about who has the most powerful husband, or among husbands vying for the most attractive wife. We are our own husbands and wives and therefore can be satisfied with enough.'

'Not only satisfied,' someone said clearly. 'Contented.'

A murmur of agreement ran through the Men.

'How many of you are there,' Peteru asked suddenly.

'Here? Eighteen. In general? A dozen fewer than the environment they are living in can support, in case fire or drought or floods deplete the food supply. Usually, we only replace ourselves. This forest looks lush, but the weather's fickle and we have to share everything with all the other animals. Unlike us, they can't stop breeding if times are good, so when things are bad they starve. We want to avoid that unpleasantness, so we keep our numbers down.'

'I can see your male genitals are like ours, can we see your female parts?'

'Of course.' Seb turned to a tall, very lean Man with visible, rope-like muscles. 'Sim, everyone reckons you've the most beautiful vulva, come and show our guests.'

General laughter as he lay calmly on the flat stone and spread his legs.

There was just enough light to see everything clearly.

'So that's why you felt between our legs,' Uretep said with a laugh. 'How fascinating. But how do you make a baby?'

Sim demonstrated.

'It's amazing; you can pull your penis around and insert it completely in. It looks painful.'

'It's uncomfortable, but not painful.'

'If you ejaculated now, would it be pleasurable? Would you have a baby?'

'No and no. We have to wait until our body clock decides it is time to breed, and then an egg develops and we have the urge to inseminate it. It's a good design that eliminates the wasteful monthly womb-shedding of female sapiens.'

'And because it isn't pleasurable, there's no incentive to do it unless we really want a child,' added Leo.

'Do you always make your own child or do you also have another man's? And do you have sex with other Men, Sim?'

'Always our own child, unless there's been an accident and we can't inseminate ourselves. But that's rare. As for sex with others, of course we do, in my case mainly with Leo, my partner, but also with the others if the desire's mutual. It's good for social cohesion if all members of a group occasionally enjoy sexual pleasure together as well as eating, talking singing, dancing and exercise. There's no jealousy because we're our own spouses—if that makes sense.'

'Yes, it does... sort of. But if there's no pleasure in it I don't see…'

'It's only when we inseminate ourselves that ejaculation isn't much fun, with others it's wonderful.'

'But won't you have a baby if someone else has sex with you?'

'No, because I'm the only one who uses that orifice. All social sex is done the same way you two were doing it when we arrived.'

'So that's why you weren't shocked.'

'We are not insane. Only a madman could be shocked by behaviour that gives pleasure and does no harm.'

'Do you feel like two people, Sim? Do you think of yourself as we, or me?'

'Me, of course. I am a complete being.'

'How old are you?'

'Seventy-four, Leo is seventy-two, Cos is fifty-two, Seb is twenty-eight, Jar is... forty isn't it, Jar?'


'But! That's impossible. You all look the same age; not much older than us.'

'That's because one of our genetic modifications prevents the telomere from losing bits of itself. And that means our DNA doesn't forget how to replicate and repair cells perfectly, so we don't age. But we're not immortal. We can't grow a new eye, arm or leg, or repair serious trauma. Depending on how hard our lives have been we drop dead between the ages of sixty-five and seventy-five—I'm due to pop off any time now. To ensure continuance, we have our child when we're around fifty-five, to give us time to teach him everything but not overpopulate.

'Do you have a son, Sim?'

'Yes, he's nearly twenty. He and Leo's son are hunting a few days hike from here. We'll join them in a week—providing I don't kark it before then.'

'Does the idea of death worry you?'

'No more than the absence of life worried me before I was born.'

Uretep turned to Leo. 'Will you be sad when Sim dies?'

'What's the point of being sad about the inevitable? I'll have memories and all the other Men. Without death, Uretep, there cannot be life. It would be stasis. Unchanging, and that is the same as death. It's the knowledge that this is the one, short life I'm going to have that makes it so precious.'

'Yes I can see that, but I don't think I could go on living if Peteru died.'

'That's understandable, considering your active years are so short and you've no one to replace him. You would be totally alone. With us, although everyone has a different character, we all share the same values, hopes and desires, and we have sons who share many of our genes, so we are never alone.'

'Sounds wonderful,' Uretep said with a soft sigh.

'Is getting rid of Oasis why you're all here?' Peteru interrupted.

'Yes,' Fee admitted. 'Men have been coming here for centuries, trying to work out how to get rid of that place.'

'And have you worked it out?'

'No, Peteru, we haven't. We have no protection from the laser shield that guards the Mages in their apartments. We've seen it zap and incinerate large wild animals that strayed too close, also a couple of fugitives that dropped off a balcony in the hope of making a run for the trees. We wanted to poison their water or air supply but the water's so far underground we couldn't access it and the packs of wild dogs they encourage by tossing them their unwanted slaves make approaching the old city too dangerous, even if it wasn't for their weapons. We hoped they'd eventually begin to leave or explore so we could pick them off one by one, but you've told us that is never going to happen now that they've got your NumbaCruncha. We're stumped, unless…'

'Unless?' Peteru prompted.

'Unless you and Uretep are sincere in what you said yesterday, that you'd like to destroy Oasis.'

The two young men searched each other's faces for a few seconds before nodding decisively. 'We were sincere.'

'And do you program the computer that runs the enseemats?'

'Yes, and we might have a plan. But we have to discuss it together first.'

'On that note of hope I declare it's time for food,' a deep voice called.

Everyone got up, stretched, raced to the pool, swam and returned to eat cold meat and vegetables that had been prepared earlier. To the visitors it was as delicious as the previous meal.

Back at the boulders the only light came from a fire that shed a soft, flickering glow, conjuring images of mysterious creatures that usually appeared only in dreams.

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