by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 10

More Information

During the next two hours Uretep and Peteru discovered that this group of Men, or 'mob' as they called themselves, were one of a dozen similar sized groups that migrated up and down the land. Because of the precarious nature of their food supply they couldn't remain in one place too long. It wouldn't take much over-fishing or hunting to wipe out a species, especially as very unreliable weather already made survival a lottery.

Roughly nine hundred years earlier, their forefathers had observed the arrival of a small group of Homo sapiens in gigantic motorised vehicles filled with scientific equipment, tools, earth moving machinery and every implement necessary to rebuild their former lives. An underground bunker was the first thing they built, in which they managed to avoid the worst of the catastrophes that eventually killed off most of their species. The new arrivals were so well guarded and armed, there was nothing the Men could do but watch as they expanded their city.

Rising temperatures, wild seas, destructive storms, cyclones, floods, droughts, insect plagues, and diseases made life difficult for every animal and plant. Violence, insurrection, civil wars, hunger and disease destroyed the few human settlements remaining. Only their mobility and adaptability had so far prevented the Men's extinction along with other already marginalised species.

'As we said earlier,' Fee said with a smile, 'you're lucky you visited us this month. In a couple of weeks, if the weather's the same as it's been for the last century or so, we can expect floods, hail, lightning strikes and a typhoon or six. That might change your mind about joining us.'

'It sounds exciting.'

'How about giant bloodsucking flies, swarms of wasps, battalions of biting beetles and leeches that can suck a healthy man dry in a couple of hours?' A sleek cautious looking man introduced himself. 'I'm Ari. You will find life with us often uncomfortable and dangerous, and perhaps boring.'

'Nothing could be as boring as Oasis! Anyway, if we stay there we'll be dead as soon as we've competed the installation of NumbaCruncha. But I'm amazed about the weather, we had no idea it was so changeable and dangerous. Down in the city every day's the same.'

'Dull but safe,' Rez said wryly. 'Think carefully before you dump that for a precarious life with us.'

'We will,' Peteru replied with a grin. 'What beats me is that although you've rejected all technology—no books, computers or records—somehow you know all these facts, dates and figures? And you're able to understand everything! Even NumbaCruncha didn't faze you!'

'We do what humans did for hundreds of thousands of years before they became addicted to permanent written records,' Rez explained. 'We use our memory. The human brain has almost unlimited capacity to visualise, calculate, think, reason, remember and recall. All the important happenings and doings of the last three thousand years is passed from father to son, and updated as we live and learn more.'

'That's amazing!'

'Not at all. It's a natural, inbuilt mental program that every human has and can use unconsciously. It was no effort for you to tell us thousands of facts about Oasis from memory, and I'll bet you could build your NumbaCruncha from scratch again without plans.'

'We could remember the plans and calculations, but we'd have to draw them again to make sure…' Peteru considered what he'd said. 'No! I reckon you're right. If we had the equipment and materials, we could build one again from memory. Couldn't we Uretep?'

'Possibly, but I don't want to.' He turned to Rez. 'Tell us about the end of sapiens civilization. We've a rough idea from some old videos, but....'

'OK, but it'll have to be short. It's getting late,' Zen interrupted. 'Where to begin? Just over a thousand years ago technological and medical advances allowed Earth's population to increase until twelve thousand million people were fighting for food, water and living space. The by-products of industrialisation changed the climate, and urbanisation gobbled up arable land. Forests were replaced by food crops, whose toxic run-off killed the fish. Crops failed. Millions starved.

'Urban waste and seepage of lethal radiation from nuclear power plants destroyed water supplies. Dust storms spread toxic airborne particles. The Greenland and Antarctic icecaps slid into the sea creating tsunamis that wiped out whatever remained on the coast. Only the obscenely wealthy one percent of humans, whose greed had been the primary cause of the problems, found refuge in fortified enclaves such as your Oasis.'

'But how could it have happened? Didn't they see it coming?' Peteru asked in bewilderment.

'They saw it coming, but chose to listen to sloganeers who promised technology would solve all problems, as long as everyone consumed more and had more children. Sensible people who advocated the opposite were ignored. When things failed to improve, wealthy countries sent their airplanes to bomb, invade, slaughter and pillage the food from poorer countries, so they could live a few years longer.

'Religious leaders added to the chaos by insisting the world's problems were caused by mankind's failure to please the gods. All pretence at democracy disappeared and survival depended on how cold-blooded and vicious someone was. Opponents were tortured or burned to death. Life for the non-elite became a living death, and nowhere was safe.

'Eventually, every coastal city, ninety percent of the food-producing flood plains and deltas, and all the lands at or below sea level were reduced to poisoned salt marshes or inland seas. Millions caught diseases, starved, or were murdered for their food. Cannibalism became the norm.'

'It sounds dreadful!' Peteru whispered.

'It was utter insanity. Homo toolmaker's childish refusal to share the planet with other species ensured their own extinction; taking with them nearly all other life on the planet,' Jar replied sadly. 'For a while, ragged groups of humans eked out miserable existences on useless land; fighting, worshipping their malevolent gods, punishing dissidents—carrying on as humans always have. Poor nutrition meant fewer live births; then even these stopped about three hundred years ago.'

Jar stopped talking and the forest seemed to creep closer. Threatening. A reminder, if one were needed, of the tenuous grip all seemingly robust organisms had on life.

Bel took up the story and explained that the once vast continent was now a long, relatively narrow strip of mountains and valleys stretching from sweltering wet tropics to the slightly cooler, drought stricken south. To the West, seas had invaded from both north and south, triggering gigantic earthquakes and creating a vast shallow sea dotted with rocky outcrops. According to rumour, about a thousand kilometres away on the far side was a chain of rough hills facing a wild sea, but this couldn't be verified as in all their years of wandering up and down the Men had met no one who had crossed and returned.

Vast toxic swamps blanketed in a miasma of noxious gasses that paralysed then killed, were all that remained of the once extensive coastal cities, and all life in a radius of hundreds kilometres had disappeared. Fish poisoned anyone foolish enough to eat the foul smelling flesh.

Inland towns decayed, leaving rotting concrete carcasses. In most of those places too, a careless visitor could stumble into a foetid bog and be overcome by poisonous fumes.

It had been two centuries since any sapiens had been sighted, apart from Oasis. In the past, when Men had come across refugees they'd followed secretly, leaving them to die naturally. If it looked as though they might succeed in establishing themselves, however, the Men had ensured they didn't.

A thoughtful silence descended as if everyone had been mesmerised by the smoke and fluttering pale moths swirling lazily up from the fire. The only sound a low buzzing emitted by large brown and green beetles flying through the flames as if it was a game.

'Thanks. Its been incredibly interesting,' Uretep said thoughtfully, rubbing at his eyes. 'I know it's getting late, but what about children—how do you have them, care for them, teach them; we're ignorant because no sapiens in Oasis has given birth for hundreds of years.'

'There's nothing complicated about having children,' Leo said casually. 'We carry the developing embryo in our bellies for two hundred and seventy days, then contract our muscles and he pops out the same orifice the sperm went in. We wash him and carry him on our backs or bellies in a sling made of woven plant fibre, feeding him with nutritious food we've chewed for them. A few weeks after birth the child can walk and is eating the same food as us. By one year he's able to follow us everywhere. He is educated from birth till death by experimentation, making mistakes, observation, example, teaching and advice.'

'You guys are so wise, it makes me feel useless.'

'We'll all be useless if we don't get some sleep. You two can stay with us if you like,' Leo said nonchalantly as he walked towards the forest.

The other men dispersed silently in different directions while Peteru and Uretep nervously followed Sim and Leo about a hundred metres into the forest to the base of a large tree. A loop of thick vine hanging a metre from the ground was the route to a platform high above the forest floor. After hoisting themselves up, the young men collapsed onto a springy floor of woven palm fronds.

'My shoulders,' Peteru wailed, 'they feel as if they've been torn out. I've never climbed like that before. Lucky it's dark or I'd never have dared. How'd you make this? How high are we? And why?'

'It's made of branches lashed between forks. We're about forty metres up because mosquitoes and other night-flying bloodsuckers usually remain closer to the ground where they can avoid the little bats that eat them. Wild boars, wild dogs, poisonous centipedes, scorpions and ticks also remain nearer ground level. Up here we're safe from a flash flood, and fine unless there's a cyclone.'

'Was the smoky fire to discourage pests?'


'What about rain?'

'Palm fronds keep off most rain; if it's a deluge everyone gathers in a cave high in the side of the escarpment.'

'Why don't you always sleep there?'

'Eighteen Men, no matter how mentally and physically attuned to life together, need privacy and time alone with their partners to re-establish intimacy, allow their minds and bodies to catch up with recent events, and prepare for another day. A life spent in constant social contact is emotionally and intellectually draining and soon ends in arguments or worse.'

'Makes sense. Uretep and I would never have survived if we'd had to live a communal life like the Vassals. But how come this nest is large enough for four?'

'We built it twenty years ago when we had our sons. There were four of us until they moved out last year.'

But you're only here for a few weeks each year, how come it's in such good condition?'

'Everyone makes repairs to their nests each time we return. It's no fuss.'

'It's really good of you to invite us.'

'No it isn't. We miss our boys so it's like old times to have a couple of young men sharing—for a while.'

'Don't worry; we won't outstay our welcome. The first thing we'll do is build our own nest.' Uretep peered over the edge. 'It's much lighter up here than down by the fire.'

'More stars and moonlight. Now sleep. Over there against the trunk, so you don't fall off. If you need to pee, make sure you don't face the breeze.'

Sim and Leo curled up together on one side and were instantly asleep.

'I don't think I'll ever be able to sleep,' Uretep whispered with a soft yawn.

'Me neither.'

They curled together, Peteru tucked in behind Uretep, and within seconds both had tumbled into a deep and dreamless sleep, not waking until Leo pushed them gently.

'Sun's up. We have work to do if we're not to starve, and you've a planet to save from sapiens. Breakfast in ten minutes.' Leo's smiling head dropped out of vision, leaving his guests to stretch and stare in disbelief at the magnificent sunrise illuminating the forest canopy with fingers of gold. Then they looked down and fear clutched at their bellies. 'How on earth did we drag ourselves up here? I'll fall going down, I know I will, it's too high, it's…'

'OK, stay there then,' Sim laughed as his head too disappeared, and the vine swayed.

Several shoulder aching minutes later they managed a weak-kneed stagger to the pool for a refreshing dip.

NumbaCruncha is Unveiled

After a long discussion outside on the balcony of New Oasis, in case Fabien had installed spyware inside, they finalised their plan; agreeing that despite being neither fair nor just, it was the only solution to the problem and therefore the right thing to do.

Back in their apartment with consciences subdued but not suppressed, the vidcom was flashing.

'You're needed!' Fabien snapped. 'Now! In the conference room!'

'What's got him in a tizz,' Uretep wondered nervously. 'You don't think they've been monitoring us?'

'I've seen no evidence. It's unlikely. Melvyn must have a propaganda problem.'

Two minutes later, respectfully apprehensive, they stood humbly in front of their thirteen bosses.

'Where have you been?' Ishbel snapped.

'We went back to New Oasis to make sure we hadn't missed anything.'

'And stayed the night! Where?'

'The same place as last time; in that closet at the end of the corridor.'

'Why stay the night? You were told we might need you!'

'Sorry, Ishbel. The air's so much cleaner there we feel better able to think and review everything to make sure we haven't forgotten anything.'

'And had you?'

'No. We're certain it's all going according to plan.'

The Chief Mage compressed her lips, squinted at her protégés as if wondering how to continue, then with a vague wave of the hand told them Augur had a few questions.

As if taken by surprise, the Transport Mage cleared his throat and in a voice that failed to hide his agitation, asked if they were satisfied with NumbaCruncha.

'Totally,' Peteru replied. 'I told you a few days ago, it's all ready to go.'

Augur licked his lips uncertainly. 'As you know, transport's my domain. I have to be certain everyone will be transported without accident to New Oasis. So as soon as you confirm it is totally safe, I'll give the order for the mats, terminals and signage, plus the worker robots that will place them where you recommended, to be taken over by robot transporter. If anything goes wrong it'll be your fault.'

'We accept that responsibility, Augur.'

The Transport Chief remained nervous. 'So… once more in front of witnesses… you don't foresee any problems in using NumbaCruncha to transport everyone over there?'

'None whatever. We've been back and forth several times and you all visited and suffered no ill effects. I'm happy to lay our reputation the line and guarantee we can transfer the entire population of Oasis to the new city in about ten minutes maximum.'

'You have no reputation to place on any line!' Xanthippe snapped. 'If anything goes wrong you won't have heads either!'

'I apologise, Xanthippe, for my hubris.'

'Where exactly are the mats and terminals going to be placed?' Job interrupted. 'I hope you've remembered to put them in all the work areas!'

'In the identical spots they are here, Job. It wouldn't surprise me if no one realises they've changed cities until they smell the air and see how fresh and clean everything is.'

'Ah yes... the air. We have a problem.'

'Several problems,' Justinian added. 'I've done my best, but the health of everyone is deteriorating.'

'Not to mention their behaviour,' Fabien snapped. ' For goodness sake everyone, can't we stop this charade and cut to the chase?'

Mumbles of agreement.

'What it boils down to,' Ishbel said in an uncharacteristically diffident tone, 'is that we're suddenly in deep shit and have to shift everyone within the next couple of days; tomorrow if possible. There's been rioting between men and women. I'm worried about vandalism as curiosity mounts over the implants and mats. Someone is spreading rumours about imminent disasters. Cracks have been detected in the roof after last year's tremendous storms and earthquake. We're in danger of having the whole thing collapse. Energy production is failing to maintain a stable temperature. We're overheating, running out of treated water and there've been outbreaks of respiratory disease. Do we have to test the New Oasis mats and terminals first? We didn't want to do it without asking you in case it would interfere with the demonstration that's been put forward to this afternoon.'

'No problem at all. As soon as you like will be fine for the big exodus. The mats were all tested exhaustively during manufacture. Augur's Robots should be able to complete the installation over there by tomorrow morning, so you can send the signal to start work now if you like, Augur.'

Thank you!' Augur sneered. ' I don't need your permission!'

'Sorry, Augur,' Uretep said in suitably penitent tones, bowing his head to conceal an involuntary sneer of contempt.

'Your job is to ensure the Emperor and Empress are ready in two hours to give the speech, demonstrate NumbaCruncha, fuck the Empress, and convince everyone of the desirability and safety of the new transport device.'

'They will do that, Ishbel. Of that I am certain. Have Alger and Begum been instructed in the use of NumbaCruncha, so they're ready for their demonstration?'

'They've been told they're going to demonstrate the new health system,' Ishbel said with an unsavoury smile.

'We didn't think they'd be able to cope with knowing they were required to screw each other while naked in front of the entire population, every pimple projected onto a dozen giant screens,' Ethel added with an equally malicious smile. 'Once they're securely on stage they can like it or lump it.'

'If they're recalcitrant, a prod up their orifices with an electric probe will change their minds,' Xanthippe snarled. 'It's the education tool par excellence, in my experience.'

'Pull your claws in, girls,' Alice simpered. Begum can't help being such a prissy cow.'

Job sighed, as if on the brink of exhaustion. 'I've had a second platform built, much nearer the crowds, to receive the Royal Couple and the Aristocrats when they transport. The big screen close-ups and the novelty and excitement of watching their betters having an orgy should be enough to distract everyone from the emergencies we're facing—at least until they're transported tomorrow to New Oasis.'

'Well! Off you go you two!' Ishbel waved fat fingers vaguely. 'You've one hundred and twenty minutes to get their Royal Highnesses and their guards ready and down to their usual seats in the Arena.

Calisto and Philo were overjoyed to see their friends, and during a very ordinary lunch were excited at the plans.

'I can't wait to feel so sexy again,' Calisto admitted.

'Me too,' Philo added. 'Does this mean we can use the mats whenever we want?'

'Yes, you can screw yourselves silly, if that's what makes you happy.' Uretep's ironic tone failed to register.

'It's all I want to do,' Calisto shouted.

'Me too,' Philo laughed.

'But we thought you guys had been enjoying sex for years?'

'We cuddled and stuff, but it was hard to get a stiff that stayed up. Nothing in my life prepared me for what happened after using that thing. I can't wait!'

Uretep and Peteru exchanged glances of relief. Calisto was a thoroughly nice guy, but nice wasn't enough to change their minds.

Empress Agnes and her bodyguard were as excited as Calisto, and equally impatient to again experience the ecstasy of a NumbaCruncha assisted orgasm. All inhibitions gone, they relished the idea of an exhibition to prove their prowess to their subjects. Agnes was especially pleased that her bodyguard would be allowed to follow her once Calisto had shot his bolt.

It took over an hour to get the entire population seated in the vast Arena, and the noise was deafening as everyone expounded their theory on why they'd all been summoned to assemble on a day and at a time when they were usually hard at work. Equally interesting was the giant new stage and the extra video screens. Rumours of an impending calamity had just begun to circulate when the tinkle of amplified bells signalled the arrival of the Mages who filed onto their elaborately decorated balcony above and behind the stages. Powerful spotlights caught every facet of the magnificent jewels ornamenting their cloaks. Large cowls cast deep shadows over their faces.

Ishbel stood and raised her hand. The silence was palpable. No one felt the slightest urge to giggle. Everyone trembled in fear.

'Citizens of Oasis. I bring you good news from gods Domino and Domina. They are very pleased with you all. You have served them well, and now it is time for your reward.' She stopped and the air was filled with the sound of lightly stamping feet to mark excited approval.

'You have all been wondering about the small mats and screens dotted everywhere in Oasis. Well, now I can reveal to you that they are the gift of Domino and Domina. They are a new means of transport to replace the negrav chutes. You will enjoy instant transport instead of wasting time in queues. Even better than that, the Gods have decided you have earned the right to greater sensitivity of feelings; to experience the heights of passion that for so long have been denied you. From the moment you leave this assembly, Domino and Domina insist that you never again wear any clothing. Instead of shame, you must all feel pride in your beautiful bodies and enjoy the thrill of sexual congress.'

Ishbel paused to allow her audience to murmur their incomprehension.

'If you obey the gods in this; if they see that you all take delight in the pleasures of your bodies; then they will give us a totally new Oasis in which everything is working even better than here.'

Cheers erupted, although clearly they still had little idea of what she was talking about.

'And now, to reinforce what I have just told you, and to demonstrate the new method of transport, I ask the Emperor to speak.'

Even louder cheers burst forth as Calisto and Agnes in their splendid robes and glittering crowns, stood and accepted the accolades.

A drum roll. Hushed expectation. Calisto's speech was impeccable. His rich voice reverberated, calmed, and was far more convincing than Ishbel's strident hectoring. Clearly, he was loved and admired and the Vassals at least would follow him wherever he went. Agnes received a similar reception when she waved towards all the Freemen. Only the tiny group of Aristocrats appeared unmoved.

When the applause died, the Royal couple stepped onto enseemats, waved again, whispered into a terminal identical to the ones dotted everywhere, touched their wrists and…

A hundred metres away on the other side of the Arena, spotlights pulsed drawing everyone's attention to a floodlit stage on which their naked Emperor and Empress were already clawing at each other, grunting and caressing as if in conflict.

No one knew where to look. Most women fixed their eyes on the engorged penis of their Emperor; most men stared wide-eyed at the Empress's breasts and swollen vulva. A spontaneous cheer erupted when Calisto tossed his wife onto her back, hoisted her legs over his shoulders and thrust himself into her. All twenty-five cameras were perfectly focussed. Not an inch of flesh, not a muscular spasm, not a single thrust and withdrawal was missed. In his passion, the Emperor's lance popped out. Accompanied by cheers of encouragement he thrust it back while microphones picked up every grunt, squeal of delight and cry of ecstasy as he arched, ejaculated, withdrew and took a bow, leaving his wife moaning for more. Two seconds later her bodyguard arrived and plunged repeatedly until even his mistress was satisfied.

The smiling trio then stood at the rear of the stage while the lights picked up Alger and Begum standing on the spot where the Emperor had recently given his speech. Both Aristocrats seemed to be protesting, but there was no sound.

'And now,' bellowed Ishbel, 'to prove even Aristocrats will be using the new transport and enjoying the delights of sex, Alger and Begum will transport.'

Wide eyed with shock. The two terrified Aristocratic engineers stood on the mats, whispered, touched wrists, and instantly appeared on the stage directly in front of the Emperor. Unlike him, they took several seconds to realise what had happened, staring at each other's nudity before running fingers across bald scalps. In what appeared to be amused delight they gazed down at hairless pubes and a very respectable erection in Alger's case—a flowering vulva in Begum's, before throwing convention and modesty to the winds. Growling like a couple of alley cats, clawing and scratching until Alger got Begum on her knees, back a deep curve, erstwhile private parts offered to the zooming cameras. Thrusting himself into the gash, he rode his partner until both achieved a corybantic, cacophonous orgasm.

Ishbel stood and silenced the crowd.

'Now, my good and faithful subjects, it is your turn to experience the joys of sex and nudity. You have all been told to remember the number of the mat in or nearest to your apartment. When I say, 'GO', I want you to whisper that number into the little terminal on the armrest of your seat, then lightly touch the silver implant in your wrist. Because you are sitting on enseemats, the correct name for the little mats that have been placed everywhere in Oasis, you will be instantly transported home. On arrival, get off the mats quickly in case others also want to go there.

After you have all enjoyed yourselves, I want you to gather in Central Park. You will find directions on the screens beside every mat. Do not use the negrav chutes—they will be turned off for the afternoon. Use your new means of instant transport! When you get to the park, do whatever you feel like doing. If you do exactly as the Gods have demanded, in a few days you will all be transferring to New Oasis—the gift of the gods. Are you ready?'



Within a few seconds a low whistle of air raced in to replace the humans, and the Arena was empty.

The Mages turned to Uretep and Peteru with strained faces.

'What's the matter?' Peteru asked, suddenly nervous. 'Was something not right?'

'We will know that,' Fabien said quietly, 'when we are sure everyone is in their rooms screwing, not floating somewhere out in space. I'm going to the surveillance chamber.'

'Can we come?'


' What's the number?'

'9999.' He touched his wrist and disappeared.

Two minutes later, thirteen Mages and two probationers were scanning banks of monitors, all showing copulating couples in various stages of rapture. No red lights blinked, indicating that every inhabitant of the city had been observed.

The collective sigh roused the dust on Fabien's desk.

'I guess we should get rid of all clothes in the Arena so they don't interfere with transfers tomorrow,' Augur suggested. 'Should I shut down the negrav chutes permanently?'

'Not till tomorrow. I have to visit a few Aristocrats to make sure the sound system's all set up for the Exodus, and I don't want to arrive there naked,' Melvyn sniffed.

'Watching those idiots screwing on stage has given me an urge,' Fabien growled. 'I need a fuck. Come here you!' He grabbed hold of Uretep's arm and, twisting it violently, forced him to his knees.

Before Peteru could intervene to prevent the rape, a fist slammed into the side of the Chief Enforcer's head, knocking him to the ground where he lay, gazing up stupidly.

'If you think I'm going to let you screw me after dipping your wick in a black arse hole, you've another think coming,' Xanthippe snarled, pinning Fabien down, squatting and grinding herself against his face.

Spluttering and laughing in delight, Fabien wrapped his arms round Xanthippe's hips and sat up, face still buried in her groin. To the raucous accompaniment of his fellow Mages' cheers, he noisily sucked, chewed and licked while shy little Alice dropped to her knees and took most of his hefty manhood into her mouth.

Taking advantage of the stinking, stomach-churning distraction, Peteru and Uretep slipped away, found the nearest enseemat, and disappeared.

The Trap is Set

'That settles it. They've got to go.'

'No doubt about it—but which way? Quick and clean? Or messy, unpleasant and slow?'

'For the Mages, the second. For everyone else, the first.'

'The first, and then the second to make sure.'

'Good strategy, but not without risk. Now for the tactics; when and where?'

'Ideally the Mages will go to New Oasis first, followed by everyone else. If we can't manage that, then they'll have to go at the same time in case they've set up surveillance cameras in New Oasis so they can see from here if everyone really does arrive.'

'That would really stuff us up! Who has access to and knows how to program Oasis Central Computer, apart from us?'

'All the Mages and their top Aristocrat Chiefs of Departments know how to use and program it, but I think only Ishbel and her top Aristocrat Engineer have access to everything. I'm pretty sure the others only have unfettered access to their own partitions.'

'How about the NumbaCruncha Mainframe?'

'Begum and Alger are able to program and use it, but I can't imagine Ishbel letting them. She could probably work out how to do everything, but she's been so worried about Oasis collapsing and keeping the system a secret until today, she hasn't familiarised herself with it, as far as I know. At least she's left no evidence behind. She seems unaware of how vulnerable she is.'

'That's because it doesn't enter her head that we might have the initiative to disobey her. I guess a few hundred years of being served by quasi robotic humans might make them unprepared for a pair of genius malcontents.'

'Don't kid yourself. They didn't stay in power for so long because they're stupid. Cunning is better than genius in this situation.'

'You're right. OK, let's run through it again. In about an hour everyone will start arriving in Central Park, aroused and aimless. It's lucky NumbaCruncha makes people calm and happy, so there won't be any violence.'

'Are you sure of that? We mustn't make the mistake of assuming everyone will react like us! The Mages certainly aren't any nicer, calmer or less tolerant afterwards—quite the opposite!'

'You're right, and that's a worry. We know that being transported by NumbaCruncha eliminates inhibitions that are merely cultural, not natural, like shyness about sex and nudity, but I never imagined the Mage's natural behaviour would be so vile. Do you reckon all humans were like that before the catastrophe?'

'That's the only logical conclusion, and supports what the Men have told us about them.'

'That makes me less concerned about the morality of what we're going to do.'

'Indeed it does. So the sooner we get it over with the better. We'll tell Ishbel it'll be best to summon the entire population to the Arena and send them over tomorrow morning.'

'She won't like that, after telling them it wouldn't be for a couple of days.'

'I can't wait that long. I'm so nervous I'll give myself away!'

'No you won't. But whenever it is, we have to make sure the Mages go first! Play on their vanity. Tell them how impressive they'll look if they're there to welcome everyone else. Luckily, they've each got a set of clothes over there, so that won't be an excuse not to go.'

'Yeah. They can stand on mats in their usual place in the Arena, say their bit, tell everyone to simply press their implant three times quickly, and that will send them to their new home, then they'll do it, and…'

'All our troubles will be over.'

Plans finalised, they bent with nervous relief to their final tasks, not surfacing for an hour.

'All done?'

'All done, except for informing Ishbel that directly she's decided when to have the exodus, we'll reprogram NumbaCruncha mainframe so that three quick taps on the wrist will send them to their home mat in New Oasis.'

'Tell her now so we can relax, and then let's go down and see what's happening.'

Ishbel received the information without thanks.

'She's becoming even less charming, if that's possible. Are you sure you want to mix it with the hoi polloi in the park?'

'Why not?'

'Fancy a bit of rough trade, do you?'

'It's my new research project.'

'Then I'm going too. Can't have you grabbing all the fun.'

Seconds later they were surrounded by a shouting, laughing, dancing, rutting, masturbating crowd of naked Vassals and Freemen, plus a sprinkling of Aristocrats now devoid of all inhibitions, including their previous contempt for other castes. It was hot, noisy and strangely stimulating.

A group of laughing women ran up and thrust their little pointy breasts against the two young men. Then two shouting women leapt onto their backs dragging them to the ground where they were held firmly while two Aristocrat females stood indecisively for a couple of seconds astride their prey before squatting and impaling themselves. These were soon replaced by other giggling, laughing, cheerful Vassals and Freemen. Peteru lost count, but thought he and Uretep had each penetrated at least nine women of all three castes before their manhood wilted and the women raced off in search of more virile prey.

Despite the mayhem there was no sense of danger. Exhausted, unable to sustain erections, most of the men sagged onto seats, the ground, or low walls, content to be caressed, massaged, sucked and fingered in vain efforts at arousal by cheerful women intent on achieving ever more tumultuous orgasms.

An ear-splitting whistle stopped everyone in their tracks.

'Go to a mat. Press your wrist once. Go home! Go to a mat. Press your wrist once. Go home. Go to a mat. Press your wrist...was repeated over and over in a harsh voice that brooked no refusal until, with astonishing docility, both men and women, no longer in lust, wandered with tired perplexed faces to the nearest mat and returned to their apartments.

Bruised, scratched, sweaty, stinking, sore and mildly shocked, Peteru and Uretep went back to their apartment for a quick shower, then obeyed a summons to Fabien's Surveillance Chamber where the Mages were peering into banks of monitors. An adjacent wall was lit with thousands of tiny blinking lights, most of which were green.

'Those two red ones are yours,' Fabien leered, rubbing soft moist hands over Uretep's buttocks.

Deciding it was politic to ignore the caresses, Uretep smiled and asked what he meant.

'I know when everyone is in their apartments.' Fabien's saliva-sprinkled whisper was laced with vague menace as well as the usual stench of rotting teeth and gastric juices that emanated from all the Mages. 'I know a great deal about you.'

Uretep's heart pounded and his head, already woolly, felt ready to burst.

Peteru had been watching the petting and whispered exchange with disquiet. 'What's the problem?' he asked.

'Fabien's been spying on me.' Uretep's attempt at nonchalance was remarkably convincing, considering the state of his thoughts.

Fabien smiled.

'He's obviously in love with you,' Peteru said casually. 'That's what lovers do.'

'Don't be ridiculous!' Fabien snapped. 'I haven't been spying and there's no way I could love a black kid, no matter how pretty.' He tilted his head to one side and peered at them with slitted eyes. 'There's something about you both, though, that makes me very suspicious. I think you have something to hide.'

'Only what happened down in the park half an hour ago.'

'Too late, we saw it all. Serves you right mixing with trash. How was your first fuck with a female?'

'Boring—and increasingly painful after the first half-dozen.'

'I've got to hand it to you Mages,' Peteru said admiringly, 'Everyone's so well trained; Aristocrats as well as Freemen and Vassals. One whistle and a few commands and off they went like good pets.'

'That's all they are,' Xanthippe sneered. 'Well-trained pets who can remember everything you tell them. Not one person forgot how to get home. NumbaCruncha is made for idiots like them.'

'Gather round!' Ishbel commanded. 'Details for tomorrow's move need to be finalised.'

'You told them it wasn't for a few days.'

'I changed my mind. We need to keep them on their toes. Surprise is the essence of good generalship.'

Peteru and Uretep exchanged relieved glances. One thing less to do. If they'd suggested going early Ishbel would probably have done the opposite to show her power.

When everyone had found a seat she outlined the program. 'First, everyone must be seated in the Arena at nine o'clock precisely. The Emperor and Empress will be in their usual place. He will repeat what he said today about New Oasis, then he'll tell them we are already there waiting for them. After instructing them to simply touch their wrists three times rapidly, instead of once, he and his entourage will set the example and go. It's that simple. Then everyone will follow suit for fear of being left behind.'

'Wouldn't it be better for the Mages to be in the Arena to ensure there's no trouble, then leave from there?' Peteru asked.

'And arrive naked? You're joking, Xanthippe sneered.

'The clothes we took over for you are still there, you didn't put them on.'

'Surely you didn't imagine we'd be leaving all our personal treasures behind in this crumbling cave? We're not like the plebs who have nothing, own nothing and value nothing. Centuries of history are stored in our apartments and we're not leaving that behind in case it's damaged by idiot robots or workers when they move in to make repairs.' Xanthippe turned to the other Mages. 'Are any of you leaving anything behind to be picked up later?'

'Definitely not!' chorused the other twelve.

'We'd never leave our history unguarded,' Ishbel bellowed. 'Vassals have been loading all our treasures in the largest of the transporters for several days. It'll be ready to go first thing in the morning, and I'm travelling with it.'

'So am I' announced Ethel with her usual sycophantic leer. 'I've no intention of arriving naked in that place!'

'So am I,' echoed the others.

'But...who will oversee the mass transfer of everyone else if you Mages aren't there?' Uretep asked nervously.

'This has always been your show, Uretep and Peteru. We trust you totally.'

'But...who will give them the signal to go?'

'Don't you listen! I just explained! The Emperor! Are you being deliberately obtuse? You had such success with him before, you might as well capitalise on it.'

'He isn't as respected as you Mages, but you know best,' Peteru said in an attempt to calm the atmosphere.

'Yes, young man, I most certainly do!' Ishbel said in a manner that suggested she knew much more about her two protégés than they could ever imagine.

'Sorry, Ishbel, I didn't mean to question your authority,' Peteru said humbly. 'It's just that you people are so impressive and respected. The Emperor will be a poor substitute, but of course he'll manage. Then, as soon as everyone's gone, we'll follow. We've nothing we want to take with us. New Oasis has been furnished with everything we've got here, and as it's new it'll be even better.' The conviction in Peteru's voice was remarkable.

'Of course it will, and as your well-deserved reward for services rendered, we intend to confirm your appointments as permanent Mages on your arrival—so make sure you land in my apartment.'

'We certainly will, Ishbel. That'll be amazing. I can hardly believe we'll be Mages.' Uretep's voice faded and he shook his head as if in disbelief at his good fortune. It was a remarkable performance.

'You'll believe it when it happens,' Ishbel said with a slight smile. 'And tonight you are invited to a farewell dinner to be held in the Mage Dining room. Eight o'clock, sharp! Come to my apartment as usual, and I'll take you there.'

Surprise at the invitation lent authenticity to the young men's somewhat over enthusiastic acceptance of the honour. Their fervent and apparently genuine delight at the prospect of sharing an official dinner triggered twitchy Mage smiles that were instantly suppressed.

Affecting not to notice, the young men maintained their state of eager excitement. 'Who will unpack your treasures?' Peteru sounded genuinely interested. 'Can we help?'

'Of course not! Vassals will do it all and travel with us. But enough chatter. I will make all the necessary public announcements tonight to prepare the way for tomorrow's exodus, but I'll leave the Emperor and the final departure to you both.'

'You'll have to remain here in the surveillance room until just before the exodus to ensure every seat is taken and no one's skulking in their apartments,' Fabien instructed, 'then you can NumbaCrunch to the Mages' balcony in the Arena. Can you remember the number of the surveillance room mat?'

'Yes, thanks Fabien. Gosh, it's a great honour to be so trusted.'

'Yeah…' Uretep seemed quite overwhelmed. 'I promise we won't stuff it up'

'You'll be stuffed, literally, if you do, young man,' Fabien replied with such venom that Peteru's bowels nearly loosened.

The ensuing silence was ominous. Thirteen Mages stared at the two young inventors with such intensity they felt as if all their secret thoughts were suddenly blazoned on their brows, and the duplicity in their hearts was open for all to see. Not daring to move, blink or even swallow in case it proved their deceit, they held their faces still and, they hoped, appeared calm and untroubled.

Ishbel's harsh voice broke the spell. She turned to the other Mages. 'From now until dinner, you'd all better check on the loading of the transporter. If your treasures are not there tomorrow, don't come moaning to me.' Again fixing her fat little eyes on the two novice Mages as if assessing their trustworthiness, she announced, 'We will leave here at sunrise and arrive in New Oasis in plenty of time to welcome you all in the new Arena soon after nine o'clock. Make sure you are there!'

'Certainly, Ishbel. We won't let you down.'

'I know you won't.' The smile was chilling. 'In your hearts and minds you are already Mages.'

'We are!'

The thirteen rulers of the entire human population of the country stepped onto enseemats and vanished, leaving their usual odour of rot and unwashed flesh. A handful of dead skin cells lifted in the slight breeze caused by their sudden exit.

'That's fantastic, don't you reckon Uretep?' Peteru said with commendable enthusiasm. 'We really are going to be Mages! I can't wait to live like them and have all that power.'

'Yeah, me too. So we'd better not make any mistakes. First up the Emperor, he'll have to be good if the Mages aren't there. They command such respect they'll be difficult to replace.'

Peteru ran his finger across his throat and mouthed, Don't lay it on too thick. 'OK, let's go.'

Returning to their rooms, they chatted normally while preparing the speech for Calisto. After exchanging notes written on erasable pads, Uretep went to visit the Emperor while Peteru made a quick trip to the Men in the forest, hoping at least one would be there.

He was in luck. A few minutes after he arrived beside the stone, Jar appeared jogging down the track. Spotting Peteru he came over, listened to the news, agreed with their plans and promised they'd fulfil their role.

Seconds later Peteru was standing beside Uretep and Philo listening to Calisto repeat his speech, word perfect.

'Can Philo stay with me this time. We promise not to screw in front of everyone?'

'We insist that he does. And it's no longer necessary to pretend you and Agnes are really married. Haven't you noticed how easy and relaxed everyone's become? No one will care if you two are lovers, so the new rule is, do as you want. OK?'

'Very OK! I can't believe you two are Mages.'

'See you tomorrow then, in the Arena with all your entourage on the usual Emperor's stage at exactly five minutes to nine. We will be the only Mages on their balcony because they're going on ahead to welcome everyone.'


'Don't forget, it is essential that every person in Oasis transfers to New Oasis from the Arena tomorrow morning at the same time. No one is allowed to go back to their room, or do anything else. As Emperor, it's important that you know the reason, so you can tell anyone who asks why we have this sudden hurry.'

Calisto gazed at Uretep in confusion.

'Oasis is falling apart, Calisto. The ceiling is collapsing and other things are also going wrong.'

'He's right, Calisto,' Peteru added. The whole place could collapse at any time. It's dangerous, so anyone who stays behind, thinking they will join us later, could die. Once we're all in the new city, work will start here on repairs.'

'Gosh! Thanks for telling me,' Calisto whispered in surprise. 'No one's ever told me anything before. That explains why it's getting hot and smelly, doesn't it?'

'Sure does. So we'll rely on you to tell everyone about the danger and why it's so important that we all go together.'

'Yes, of course.' Impulsively, Calisto wrapped his arms round both his new friends. 'I have been so happy since I met you two.'

'Thanks Calisto, you're an excellent Emperor and a fine friend. Take care of him, Philo. See you both tomorrow.'

Peteru and Uretep returned to their room to go over their plans once again; one mistake would ruin everything.

'It's all in the timing.'

'It certainly is, especially now! We've half an hour to take our robes to the Arena, shower, and get to Ishbel's.'

Wearing their Mage cloaks and hoods they dropped by negrav chute then headed for the Arena. A hundred metres into the open space Uretep placed a hand on Peteru's arm.

'I have a very strong presentiment that we've been invited to this dinner to test us. Fabien made it very clear that he is suspicious, and so are most of the others. They don't trust us at all, so if we do the slightest thing that suggests we're not totally committed to becoming a Mage, that will confirm his suspicions and they'll let him do what he likes with us. They don't really need us any more because tomorrow's all set up. Ishbel, Alger and Begum can replace us easily, so if we do or say the slightest thing that indicates we mightn't approve of them, they'll take the risk that nothing will go wrong, and get rid of us.'

'Makes sense. I'm surprised they've let us live this long! I wonder what stomach churning delight they've in store. I think I'll be able to keep my mouth shut. Now, let's get a wriggle on.'

The Arena guards dropped to their knees in awe of the robes, making no objection to their placing the garments at the rear of the Mage's podium, then NumbaCrunching back to their apartment to freshen up before arriving exactly on time in Ishbel's reception room.

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