Saturday, August 15, 2015

Oasis: Part Five



Part Five

“Teacher Pak” The youngest student asked as they sat in a circle facing each other in in the plaza “Why do people fight?”

The bald man in the robe spread his arm. “People are human. Humans fight. As I have told you before, we are all people. These so-called tribes are all artificial designations. Families and people who love each other fight too, the people on this planet have family squabbles.”

“But what of the outsiders?”

The teacher nodded his head and cupped his hands together. “Those are invaders. They are not family with this world. They are part of humanity, but these are not good people.”

People in fact had gone into hiding. Besides the soldiers, pirates and the concentrations of 'tribes' outside of the city proper, the streets were abandoned. No shops had opened, no vendors could be seen as the patrols ignored the teacher and his students.

They could also see the Air Knights had set up camp across the lakes. Trying to get between the two sides had been their objective and they had accomplished that much. The question was, what could be done now. How could peace be furthered.

The space vessels hovering over the city were meant to intimidate and they did that job very well, the occasional shuttle between them and the council building was also noted throughout the day. Teacher Pak had no idea how long they might have to stay there. He knew the students would be thirsty and hungry and tired when nightfall came around.

Across the lake Administrator Brahma and some of his ablest squadron leaders of the Aerial Knights and the Colonel in charge of the ground forces kept watch on the city and the ships above it. They had sent their messages and all they could do now was wait for an answer. No answer would also be an answer, a bad one.

The stories and rumors were spreading. The Airship Vagabond dirigibles continued to move over the city freely. Brahma wondered if they were being a bit foolish to tempt the pirates. he thought it was only a matter of time until the pirates made their position clear, by show rather than by words.

“Administrator!” Young Hando shouted running up to the elderly man, he was holding one of the small flimsy news-screens. He took it from the youngster and held it close to his face. The headlines announced that the council would begin a broadcast soon, that it would be viewable everywhere on Oasis.

The Administrator handed the flimsy back to the boy and nodded. Clearly the ball was in the court of these space pirates. He seriously doubted the Space League would intervene. Once the pirates showed any control of the world and its populace they might just be recognized as the true rulers.

The space pirates clearly held an advantage in firepower and technology. Once they made their demands the game would be afoot. What percentage of the people of Oasis would welcome the promises of water and settlements? If that number were too high, a fight against the pirates would be futile. If it were low enough, they might succeed quickly in evicting these outsiders.

They had returned to the factory. Jake was insistent that they would need weapons this time. The pirates had weapons, the Authority soldiers had weapons and so did most of the others. Certainly the Airship Vagabonds would mostly stay out of the fight, but they were still hovering around. Not many of them had stayed passed the mountains where it would be safer.

Bolt, Jake, Lily, Tulip watched the manufacturing device as it worked. In less than twenty minutes a rifle was produced. Jake took it into his hands, it was well-balanced. He brought the scope to his eye and he could see through the wall to the outside of the building.

“Nice!” he said, then “What about ammunition?”

Bolt held out a hand and in it was a bunch of small cone-shaped projectiles. “It's laser will accelerate one of these to the speed of sound, the effective range is only 400 meters or so.” he explained “I'm not as good as my dad, this thing is still a little rough around the edges. It'll work but I can't promise how long that would last.”

The small cone-shaped projectile were usually ceramic, but in a pinch you could use a light-weight metal or even steel.

“I hope we never need to use it.” Tulip said, looking concerned.

“Whatever it takes to save our dads.” Lily said, smiling at Bolt. Jake felt left out for a moment, his dad was in the airship taking care of his younger brother and sister. Those dirigibles would be sitting ducks if the pirates decided to take them down. It's not like his father wasn't in some danger, but he wasn't sitting on a bomb surrounded by armed gunmen.

“There has to be a way to deactivate those explosives.” Jake said.

Bolt shook his head. “We don't even know what kind of explosives they're using.”

“What did that girl Ria say? What are the Aerial Knights planning?” Lily asked. Jake shook his head and shrugged.

“Whatever they thought they would accomplish with their attack went out the window when they discovered who the enemy was.” he said. He leaned the gun against the wall and turned on the flat-screen monitor.

“Matt Dillinger should be doing his broadcast soon. I guess we'll know more about what's going on, although most of what he says might be lies.” Jake said as the video feed started.

The space pirate was now wearing a suit. His short beard trimmed and his long blond locks still tied in a ponytail behind his head. He certainly didn't look like a space pirate. He was standing in the middle of the chamber floor but it was darkened. You could almost see the council in the shadow.

“Hello, citizens of Oasis.” he said in a surprisingly smooth voice “My name is Matt Dillinger. Let me explain why I am here and how this benefits all of you. Once I have said my piece, I will show you that  I am a man of my word.”

“Oasis is a desert planet. There are only two sources of real water on the whole planet, if you don't include the micro-frost on the southern pole. The lakes of the oasis that this world was named for and the wells on the plateau controlled by the Aerial Knights. Yes, they have been holding out from the rest of you while sharing your goods.”

Jake had a bad feeling about this.

The man continued. “The rest of the planet outside this little valley controlled by the council which calls itself the Authority, is lifeless. Many of your people refuse to submit and live in this city, you drive in your caravans, motor bikes, airships and the like. You know. You know this world was meant to be lived on, it was meant to be a real developed colony.”

“Instead this little group of people have determined to keep this planet a poor backwater world that doesn't even get proper notice by the Star League. The Star League doesn't think this planet deserves to be treated like anything more than it is. They see no potential because of the way things are here.”

“So, instead of doing nothing like this council wishes, the people should want more. Imagine Oasis as a green world, all that land waiting to be settled would be very valuable. Imagine lakes, reservoirs and cities all over the world. That is what a real world looks like. Your council wants to keep power over you, it wants things to stay as they are. They govern like a greedy cabal. They want to keep the pie small because it's theirs, instead of growing the pie for everyone.”

“A wealthy, thriving, green Oasis would need a real government that actually represents the people who live here, instead of one dictated by the so-called 'Tribes'. The Star League is never going to treat Oasis as an equal among the settled worlds. It is time for Oasis to embrace change. That is what I offer, I want to bring water, wealth and equality to your world.”

“So. Look at a globe of the world.” he said as a holographic appeared in front of him. “Look at all this empty land waiting to be used. By you. This is your future. You should have a say in it, don't let a council chosen by group membership to decide your future. Oasis has been restricted from growth by a cabal for far too long, so stand up for yourselves.”

Then the lights of the chamber brightened just a bit.

“The council members are alive and well. The businessmen and women and others who hold power in their positions are also fine. Nobody has been harmed. Nobody will be harmed. Once the voting is over, they will be allowed to go.” Matt Dillinger said with a grim smile. “The vote will meet Star League standards, it will be considered binding by the civilized galaxy. I'll give more details later.”

Then it went blank. Jake was dumbfounded. The others were quiet. He imagined that everyone who had seen it was having the same reaction.

“A lot of people are going to fall for that.” Bolt whispered. Lily and Tulip nodded.

“You can't fight popular opinion with a gun.” Lily told Jake. He lifted the gun and strapped it over his back. “I'll be back later.” he said as he left them stunned.

Jake walked through the nearest alley between a pub and a stationary shop and then walked until he reached the plaza. The Authority soldiers he passed ignored him as he walked up to the balding man in robes surrounded by students who were sitting and talking.

“You are from the Solon, right?” Jake asked the man. The man stood and gave Jake a curt bow and held out a hand. “I am teacher Pak, these are my students. How may I help you?”

“My name is Jake. I assume you heard the broadcast?”

The man nodded.

“What did you think about it?” he asked the academic.

“We were just discussing this very topic, Jake. Please join us in the circle.”

They made room for him and he sat, he laid the rifle on the ground in front of him.

“A lot of what this man, Matt Dillinger, said was true.” Teacher Pak said with a nod “Of course the old saying, even the devil can quite scripture, comes into play. Many of the promises and statements he made are absolutely good things for this world. But at what price?”

These were the same thoughts that Jake had been having. It was troubling. Just because the council might be wrong, doesn't make the pirates the good guys. These pirates were just doing what pirates always did, they were taking advantage of a situation. Instead of dealing in outlawed goods or stealing ships and cargo, they were offering the people of Oasis what they should have already had.

Teacher Pak saw the look on his face and nodded. “They are offering to sell us what is already ours, but at a hefty price.”

Jake shook his head. “Would the Star League really allow a government run by pirates to become full members?”

“They have their own goals and biases. Do you suppose there aren't many worlds that would want a piece of this action? Oasis would not be the first world to be divided up by other worlds if this is what they plan.” Teacher Pak told them. “Once the profits were made, the wealth looted, the pirates could scram and let a 'true' government take over. With immigrants outnumber us, that government could easily be one hostile to our interests.”

“I remember some Earth history. I read about how foreign powers controlled China for decades until the Boxer Rebellion. Is this what we might be seeing? Are the pirates being backed by other worlds or even the Star League?” Jake asked.

“Sounds possible.” one of the students said.

“I don't think the pirates would have done this without a lot of support.” the female student amongst the boys said. “They've never acted this way before. History is a good guide, after all.”

Teacher Pak spoke up again. “These invaders wish to be seen as benevolent. That is likely to be a thin veneer if it is up to them. If there are foreign powers controlling them, then this wish to be seen as benevolent could be a weakness. Mahatma Ghandi knew the British well, he knew that a peaceful protest would have more impact on them than armed rebellion. If they had been Mongols, Ghandi would have raised an army.”

History is a good guide to the future, as well as a good teacher. Learn from the past, learn from mistakes. The British had responded to violence by the Indians with cruel repression, but they responded much better to peaceful protests. This would likely not have worked with other invaders, one just had to know their enemy.

Jake stood up, pulled the rifle strap over his shoulder and started walking south. He crossed the dirt berm that divided the two lakes. He could see the ground soldiers of the Air Knights watching him like a hawk. As soon as he crossed he was blocked by two armed sentries.

“Who are you? What do you want?” They asked.

“I want to see the Administrator. Administrator Brahma.”

“Why would he want to see you?” they demanded.

“Tell him that Jake, the boy who flew to the plateau, wants to see him urgently.” he replied.

One of the pair turned and jogged away, the other glared at him and the gun strapped to his back.

Soon he was escorted to the encampment where Brahma was huddled around a low table with other older people. It occurred to Jake he had seen few older people on the plateau, but these must be in charge.

“Jake, what have you come to say?” Brahma asked.

He hesitated a moment. “I think you should withdraw. For the moment, anyway. Let this play out as peacefully as it can. You must have seen the broadcast.”

Brahma nodded. “Many will think that the pirate has a good point. They will think we have been keeping too many secrets to be the good guys. Although we are fellow citizens of Oasis, we have been too aloof for our own good.”

Jake nodded. “Fighting them right now would be seen as confirmation of everything he said. We both know they aren't the good guys, even if they are saying a lot of the right things. The Air Knights just cannot take the lead role in opposition. Too many people in the other tribes do not trust you any more than they trust these pirates.”

Brahma saw the point clearly enough. Others around the table were nodding. “The Authority soldiers and the pirates have not touched those Solon students for good reason. They cannot show their true nature at this point. Until they do, anyone who stands up to stop them will be seen as the bad guys.”

Jake took the rifle off his back and handed it to one of his escorts. “I won't be needing that.”

As he was leaving Ria came up to him. “We keep meeting, Jake. I suppose you have some kind of plan. You were the one who got into the council chamber when our forces couldn't.”

Jake smiled. “Not really a plan. We just have to play this right.”

“The leader of the caravans, Riders and Vagabonds were all invited to meet with Dillinger.” Bolt informed him as he returned to the factory building. Jake crossed his arms, “The Vagabonds don't have a leader.”

Bolt and Lily exchanged a glance. Then Lily carefully said “It's your dad.”

Jake sat on the floor. “What is he thinking?”

Bolt dropped down next to him. “Obviously he is going to offer to share the wealth. Probably offer them huge tracts of territory for their support.”

“What about the agrarians, merchants and others?” Jake asked.

“Different meetings.” Bolt said. “He is going to try and turn them against their own council representatives. Say they were mismanaging the world and corrupt. I can see that one coming a mile away.”

“What are we supposed to do?” Tulip asked “People are going to see the council as crooks. If the choice is between one band of crooks keeping us from developing and one band of pirates who offer everything people want...?”

Bolt nodded. “Some choice.”

Jake slapped the floor. “Good idea.”

They all looked at him like he was crazy. “What's a good idea?” Lily asked.

“There needs to be a different choice!” Jake told them. “Give me a computer with a keyboard. Lily, can you make something to eat? I have some thinking to do.”

He took the money he had gotten from Evander and gave it to Lily. “Some shops are actually opening.”

Bolt placed a screen and a keyboard in front of Jake and backed up. “Are you going to be causing trouble?”

“I hope so.” Jake said with a smile.

Part Six


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