“Wake up, sleepy face” the blond girl said getting too close to Jake's face while he was still mostly asleep. He fell right off his cot because of his little sister and onto the wooden floor. If the breeze hadn't picked up just as he was standing he might have chased her through the gondola. Instead he turned and beheld the site of Oasis on a nice morning.
The only city on the planet grown up around the only surface water and surrounded by mountains which helped keep it together. Otherwise humans wouldn't be living here, except maybe a few scientists. He reached out and grabbed a shirt from the line and threw it on, he had to get down there and enjoy the city!
He threw on his sandals and ran through the gondola into the kitchen where he nabbed a small stack of cracker-toast and berries and headed for the anchor rope.
“Take the vator this time, sliding down the anchor is dangerous!” his father yelled as he ran by. Jake hardly heard anything as he grabbed his hook and caught the anchor rope and slid around and around toward the ground. It was almost like flying as he held out his other arm and enjoyed the feeling of the rushing air and watched the ground rush up to meet him.
“Don't you ever listen?” Jake thought he heard his father yelling from somewhere, but that was a small matter. He hit the ground, he was in Oasis! It felt like his element, everything about this town and this planet felt like part of him. Oasis was made up of thirteen distinct groups of people, factions some called them, but most called them tribes. Thirteen tribes of Oasis.
Nobody remembers why.
The most noticeable of the tribes was Jake's own Airship Vagabonds who lived in the sky on large dirigibles. There were usually dozens anchored around Oasis, the city, at any given time while others wandered the skies of the desert world. Then there was the Merchants of Oasis City who pretty much controlled local politics. They were pretty okay, but boring.
Jake went from table to table and booth to booth seeing what was for sale. Sometimes you might find a real gem among the trash. Sometimes you might be able to buy a piece of high-technology from off-world, but that was getting more and more rare. Jake eyed the weapons on sale at one of the fancier booths, the charge pistols were far too expensive but there was something...
“Is that a boomerazor?” Jake asked, surprised. The short, fat balding man smiled and nodded. Where had he come across this? It was just barely affordable and Jake was eager to buy it. It looked a bit worn and might be dull with age but it was the real deal. He dropped his bag of coin on the counter and held it up.
He folded and unfolded it. A real sharpened boomerang used by the Aerial Knights and he had one to call his own. The Aerial Knights lived up on a high plateau, they considered it a kingdom of their own and they kept to themselves mostly. You could see them flying their power-gliders like they owned the sky, because they did own the skies. Jake had always been in awe of them.
The Aerial Knights weren't the only tribe to be mostly known for using motors, the Riders rode their cycles all over the desert, they own the ground in their mind. Nobody would want to cross them out in the empty wastes alone. They would rob you blind and make you thank them for it.
The Riders never tried to attack Oasis City of course. They were only a bother to any crazies who decided to run off into the desert on their own. The Agrarians who farmed the outskirts of Oasis, near where the water was, were raided once in a while but it's been many years. The Riders had mellowed.
Jake went to his very favorite noodle shop, flopped onto a bench and waved at Lily. Lily was the blonde girl who worked the place, sometimes her sister Tulip helped out but that was usually more of an annoyance than a help. Lily smiled and waved back and quickly had a bowl of regular noodles in front of him.
“So what are you up to, Mr Jake Wagoner?” she asked, sitting on the table near the bowl he was trying to eat from. He was looking elsewhere and the noodles slipped right off his fork without him knowing, she laughed. His family had once been part of the Caravan tribe, riding their wagons in long lines all over the place before his grandfather got the chance to buy his own blimp.
“I was just thinking about the pretty girl who works here, Ms. Lily” he said. She looked around and said “You want me to go fetch Tulip?”
Jake put out and waved both hands “No, please don't!”
She laughed and leaned up close to Jake. “So... you mean that I am the pretty girl?” she asked in an imitation of a sultry voice. They both laughed, how many times had they done this?
Just then they heard some shouting around the corner and they both went to look. It seems that someone was angry with one of the peddler-merchants.
“What do you mean you can't sell me ammo for this gun?” a customer was asking loudly “That sounds like a real shady business operation to me!”
The peddler was upset too. “I can't find any ammunition for that particular type gun. It just isn't available. We don't manufacture them on Oasis, obviously. I will buy the gun back from you, I guess.”
The man threw the gun at the peddler and then kicked over the table. “You're nothing but trash!” he yelled “I want my money back.”
The man stomped off after getting his money. Jake and Lily went back around the corner. “What was that all about? That guy was really high-strung!” Jake said.
“Yeah. It's happening more and more these days.” Lily told him “It's almost as if someone powerful is intentionally messing with the markets.”
“What do you mean?”
“That was a common caliber of weapon, Jake. There should be warehouses of that ammunition, there were actually, but recently someone has been taking it all... off-line.” she answered “I hear a lot of people talking about this. I think something is up, but I don't know what and I have no proof. It's just a theory right now.”
The Governing Council of Oasis is made up of one member of each of the thirteen tribes, this helps keep the balance and the peace in our society. Being a desert planet, the population is not very big and one small group can make a big disruption if they wanted to. That used to be the Riders but they mostly stuck to their own thing these days.
Jake decided to pay a visit to his friend, Bolt. Bolt was the son of Mr. Tinker, one of the best Makers in Oasis. He could design and produce just about anything on his hand-built X-Y-Z mini-factories and that should include ammunition, if the gunpowder was available.
“Bolt, anyone here?” Jake asked, pushing open the front door. Bolt was there in the middle of the floor with their maid Leeta. She seemed to be comforting him.
“What happened?” Jake asked
“Some men, a gang, they came and busted up the factory. They busted up Mr. Tinker too” Leeta answered as Bolt sobbed. She rubbed his shoulders and then said “He's not doing too well, but he will pull through I think.”
“Who would do this?” Jake asked “Mr. Tinker doesn't have any enemies, does he?”
No, but he had competitors. That was the first thing Jake thought of, but it didn't make sense. For thirty years Mr. Tinker has been just fine and why would the others manufacturers send goons now? Two and two did not add up to competitors.
It was getting late. Jake would be able to investigate this a little more tomorrow. Walking back toward the family dirigible his thoughts were in turmoil. He had wanted to spend his time flirting with Lily but something weird was happening and it was not going to be good.
The vator was already lowered and waiting for him. He walked onto the platform and pulled the cord and then he was slowly winched up to the gondola. Once he arrived his father said “Dinner is served, Jake. Where have you been anyway?”
It was a never-ending joke since Oasis wasn't that big and Jake was old enough to go pretty much anywhere he wanted. He entered the dining room to find the benches holding his annoying little sister, her friend Kelsa, and their little brother, Jato.
“Steamed tato's” Jato called out as he entered “Reary good!” shoving spoonfuls into his mouth. Jake took his bowl and took a few small, quick bites before setting it down.
“Dad. Have you heard anything weird happening lately?” Jake asked.
“Not really. Why? Anything specific?” he asked, adjusting one of his suspenders.
“What about the council, has something happened on the council?” Jake asked, it was a fishing expedition but it was something his dad might know about.
His dead took a drink of his water. “Now that you ask, kind of.”
Jake hadn't expected anything, he was surprised. “What? You mean something is happening on the council?”
His dad reached down and pulled out the palm-size flimsy he was always reading. “It's been in the news for days, Jake. You should try reading the news once in a while.”
He took the flimsy from his father and scrolled the headlines.
His dad said “A new member of the council. Supposedly representing the merchants but it seems he strong-armed his way onto the council. Now he is trying to cajole the council into passing all kinds of new laws and programs, he says he has a grand vision for Oasis.”
Jake didn't know if this had anything to do with the attack on Mr. Tinker or the lack of available ammunition for the public but it could. This Mr. Campo wanted to heavily restrict firearms on Oasis and he wanted to more regulate the manufacturing of goods. His ideas might have made sense on a densely populated world but it was kind of dumb on Oasis.
“This Mr. Campo. Does he seem like someone who might hire goons?” Jake asked handing the flimsy back to his father.
“I don't know. He seems like a big dreamer and ideologue to me, plus he is just one member of the council. I don't think we have to worry about Mr. Campo actually getting of the more weird things passed.” his dad said.
Weird ideas. Like the bridge to the plateau, the idea that the Air Knights and other tribes should not have their own defacto territories. All that's going to do is cause conflict where none need exist. Jake wondered if Campo was trying to cause conflict?
Then his dad spoke up. “I sort of volunteered you for helping with the harvest at Evander's orchard tomorrow, so show up bright and early.”
“You what?” Jake asked. Why was his father always doing things like that? Evander's orchard was to the south of Oasis City farther than the lakes. Close to the edge of the plateau. Maybe he would get a glimpse of the power-gliders flying through the sky. That would make it worth the trip.
The next morning Jake was out of the gondola and down the anchor rope using his hook, using the brake just before hitting the ground. Then he took the turn-off south and walked the rocky path toward the orchards.
The path was also the only thin piece of land dividing two of the lakes that made up Oasis, the one on the left was used as a city water source, the one on the right was for agriculture. He could see some people working on the fish farm in the distance. After he crossed the path it wasn't too much farther before he reached Evander's orchards.
The orchards were a sight, a lot of green on such a dry world. But the plateau in the distance kept getting his attention. Something about it has always drawn him. Someday he wanted to visit the plateau and learn all about the Air Knights. Even though this never happened, they were very closed off, he wanted to go.
After picking oranges and other fruit until past noon, Jake's fingers were hurting. Finally Mr. Evander himself brought him some cold juice and told him he could go now. Before Jake could take off, the man dropped some coins into his hand. A little money never hurt.
“Thanks! I didn't expect that.” Jake said
“You were working harder than most of my paid help. I almost had to stop them from ganging up on you for making them look bad, but they were too lazy to carry through with their plans.” Evander joked with him.
“Thanks again. If you need help again, you know where to find me.” Jake told him before leaving. Instead of heading back toward Oasis City he went south to the big empty desert between the farms and plateau. He wanted to see some aerial shows but nothing was flying at that moment.
Just before he gave up he finally glimpsed one of the power-gliders fly from the plateau and make some sharp turns in the air. Someone was doing a good job of controlling their aircraft, Jake thought as he watched the aircraft maneuver.
Boom! Jake nearly fell over from the sound. Where had that come from? He saw a man in the desert area with a big gun on his shoulder. Boom! He was shooting at the Air Knight. Jake was shocked, this was attempted murder (crime is rare on Oasis!) and in broad daylight. Jake wanted to find someone and tell them to call the authorities but... boom!
Smoke poured from the power-glider it could no longer fly high enough to land on the plateau. Jake watched the smoke trail turn and head towards the man on the ground with the gun. Jake wanted to scream a warning to the Air Knight but just then the man on the ground dropped the gun and grabbed his throat, and fell.
Jake ran towards where all of this was happening.
The power glider had crashed landed, smoke was still coming from the engine. The Air Knight was standing with hands on hips staring on their vehicle. Not far away was the body of a gruff-looking man, a large gun next to him and a boomerazor lodged into his throat.
“Are you okay?” Jake asked “I saw the whole thing!”
The Air Knight turned around and took off their helmet. Hair just past the shoulders and the prettiest face Jake remembered seeing on a girl. She was around his own age too. “Who are you?” she asked.
“My name is Jake. I saw it all. What's your name?”
“Ria” she told him and walked to the body and pulled the weapon from the corpse. “Do you have any idea who he is? Or why he attacked me?”
Jake shook his head. “Some weird things have been happening lately, but nothing like this. Are you okay though?”
“He punctured my glider!” Ria told him “That is definitely not being okay!”
Then she pulled something from the helmet and spoke into it “Hando! I had an emergency, call the others and come and get me!”
Jake could barely hear a garbled response.
She looked around and back to Jake, as if just remembering he was there. “You can go now, my wing will come and fetch me. I'm not injured.”
Jake looked at the body and back to her. “You just killed a man in self-defense, the authorities need to be notified. People can't just go around and use you guys for target practice!”
“I'm not notifying anyone” she said “I'm just going to get back up there where I belong. I have my own authorities to warn about people shooting at us.”
Jake nodded. The Air Knights liked to think of themselves as their own little country, independent from the others. That was something Mr. Campo was trying to start an argument over in the council. Jake glanced at the corpse again, could that guy have been working for Campo? Could this incident now be used by him for political purposes?
------ Go To Part Two
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