The following morning Jake made it to breakfast and found his father eagerly reading the news on the flimsy. He hardly heard anything his little sister or her friend said, not really understand little kids much.
“Dad. Any political news today? Any shootings?” he asked as if he were just shooting the breeze. He father put the flimsy on the table top and looked at his son.
“Shootings? That's specific, why are you asking me that?” he asked, Jake tried not to look suspicious or anything.
“Well” his father said, picking up the flimsy again, “It just so happens that the Council Chambers are on lock-down, the report says there was a credible threat against the government.” He handed the flimsy to Jake and went back to eating his morning soup. “Of course, it could all be a lie. Government lies a lot.”
Jake was surprised to hear his father say that but he read the story. Apparently the council was rousted from bed in the early hours of the morning and soldiers were ordered to lock the place down. There have been no contact with the members of the council since then, although anti-aerial laser weapons were deployed in the vicinity.
“Has the government applied to the Star League for help?” Jake asked, not seeing anything about it in the story.
His father shook his head. “No. Apparently they want this to stay internal, or domestic, as they say.”
Jake gave the flimsy back to his father and wolfed down his soup. Then he was soon sliding down the anchor rope with his hook again, despite his fathers warnings. He was in far too much of a hurry to start using the vator now.
He found Bolt at the noodle shop. He didn't look like he had slept much and he was nursing the bowl instead of eating properly but he was there.
“Bolt, how is your father?” Jake asked
“Better.” his best friend muttered.
Lily didn't say anything as she set sat down on the opposite side of the table. “He's been here for an hour, and he won't say much.” she said.
“Bolt. Do you know who might have done that to your father?” Jake asked “Because I think it's probably directly related to the lock-down of the council!”
Bolt pushed the bowl away. “You think so? I'm so glad I wasn't the only one.”
“We're your friends, you should tell us.” Lily said before getting up to serve another customer.
“She's right.” Jake told him, then bent in and whispered “I saw a man shoot at an Air Knight yesterday, but she got him in the jugular with a boomerazor!”
Bolt's eyes widened.
“There was nothing about that in the news today. Someone has covered it up.” Jake told him, then he looked around for possible spies before saying “I think that Mr. Campo character is up to something sinister, but I couldn't prove it.”
Bolt looked at him suspiciously. “What do you want from me?”
Jake smiled. “A vehicle. An aerial vehicle if possible.”
Bolt chuckled. “I don't have one, and you don't know how to fly one.”
Jake hushed him. “Listen, you have access to the manufactory don't you? You can make one for me, I need to get to the Air Knights.”
Bolt was still not taking this seriously. “Even if I could, and you could fly it, they'd fight you off before you could get to the plateau. Especially if someone were shooting at one of them yesterday. Plus I would need...” He seemed to be fishing in his mind for something.
“Need what? If I can do it, I'll do it.” Jake told him.
“I want to go too” Bolt told him. Jake crossed his arms and sighed, then nearly fell over when Lily screamed “I'll go too!”. He hadn't known she was standing behind him and he had been startled.
“How could we all go?” Jake asked “That would be a bit too conspicuous! They might think we are invading.”
Bolt shook his head. “I know their radio frequencies. Well, one of them. I don't understand the codes they use, but we can tell them we're coming in peace.”
Lily hit Jake on the shoulder. “See, we can do this.”
“Jake, I'm going to need some help on that aerial vehicle.” Bolt told him “Come on!”
Lily stayed with the noodle shop as Bolt navigated the alleys and bi-ways of the city to a nondescript building that had no signage at all. “No reason to advertise. My dad does all his real business from the house.”
Bolt punched in a 9-numeral code into the lock and they were soon inside. Many of the machines had been smashed and some looked like they could not be repaired. Bolt showed him one that hadn't been touched in a far corner.
“It will take longer with one machine, but I already happen to have two turbojet engines I made for a future project.” he pointed to a far wall where a shelf was covered by blue tarp. While Bolt initiated the design computer, Jake walked over and pulled off the tarp. Under it were two silver cylinders about the size of a keg.
“Okay, if it's going to carry the three of us...” Bolt was saying to himself as he designed a basic outline for the aerial vehicle. “I want to have vertical takeoff ability...” Bolt muttered, Jake looked at the screen to see the rendering of the vehicle with the engines on a swivel of some kind. It looked a bit dangerous, to tell the truth.
“Those vertical tails are too small, they'll need to be bigger to give us some rudder control. Unless you feel like flipping sideways for every turn.” Jake told him. Bolt ran the design through a simulation, it crashed on takeoff.
“Needs some more work.” Bolt said. “When you mentioned the shooting incident, you said the Air Knight was a girl. How did you see her?”
Jake shrugged. “She landed on the ground with a busted engine. Her name was Ria and she was about our age too.”
Bolt paused what he was doing. “Don't let Lily hear you talking about her.”
“I barely got to say hello before some others showed up and took her and her vehicle away.” Jake told him “None of them seemed to be that old. Maybe they were a trainee squad or something.”
Fact is that very little was known about the society of the Air Knights. It was rumored that they have their own small oasis on the plateau and had their own farms and orchards. Since they seemed to purchase very little from the other tribes, they probably had to have their own factories too. A lot of the other twelve tribes had bad feelings for the Air Knights because they were aloof, they might have been a bit envious too.
Just before dark the assembly of the large aerial vehicle was completed. Bolt and he had spent a lot of time putting the engines on just right. When Bolt tested the controls the engines did exactly as they were supposed to do. There was a small computer in the vehicle, Bolt moved the controls and Jake moved an engine (both moved since they were synchronized) and this told the computer what was supposed to happen.
This 'manual programming' lasted until after dark. Jake borrowed a flimsy from Bolt, he would need to get one of his own sooner or later, and sent a message to his father that he would be staying overnight.
“It's good he knows where I am, in case something happens.” Jake said “It just makes me feel like a kid or something.”
Bolt laughed. “My dad can track my flimsy. You should feel lucky. I mean, it's not like there is anywhere to go.”
“Besides the plateau” Jake pointed out and they both laughed. “Can this thing really carry the three of us?”
Bolt looked offended. “Of course. These engines could get us half-way to mach one”, before adding, less enthusiastically “Probably anyway. I don't want to try that, though.”
Jake looked at the flat winged craft, the two keg-shaped engines between three seats that looked like they had come off a hover-scoot. No way to buckle up, apparently you were supposed to put your feet into stirrups and hand on the handles. The wingspan was about 3.7 meters.
Jake looked at the door, then at the big roll-up door on the other side. “I think we might not be able to get it outside.”
Bolt laughed at him and pointed straight up. Jake looked up and saw that the roof could open up for them. “Seriously?”
“Why do you think I wanted vertical takeoff?” his friend asked and smiled. “I got two cots in that closet over there, you pull them out while I pour us a tall glass of cold water.”
They sat on their cots and looked at the flying machine. “My dad is going to freak when he finds out how much of his stuff I used for this. That was a lot of granulated metal that I fused together. I wonder how much power I used from the sodium reaction system?”
Jake nodded. “If we can find out who did this, I think he will forgive you.”
“Tomorrow, we fly!” Bolt said in what was supposed to be a dramatic voice.
“Go to bed, already.” Jake said.
Jake woke up bright and early, washed his face and found Bolt returning with two bowls of breakfast soup and rice. “Lily is going to be here in a few minutes.” he said as Jake ate. “I put together some packs for us, stuff we might need. I made you a helmet, here are some goggles... are you paying attention?”
“Not really” Jake said “I get it, stuff we need.”
Bolt threw something at him and he caught it. It was a leather jacket. It was actually pretty cool and it looked a bit like what Ria had been wearing. For a second he wondered whether he was doing this to uncover the truth or to see her again. He didn't arrive at a conclusion before Lily showed up, already wearing the leather jacket.
“Jake. The council is still locked down, can you believe that?” Lily asked as she sat in the middle seat of the aerial vehicle. “Something big is going on and nobody has any idea what it is.”
“You would think the Star League would do something.” Bolt said.
“No. They don't care about a backwater planet like ours.” Jake said “Have they ever done anything for Oasis?”
Jake remembered history class. The Star League, so noble and grand, their mission to help mankind spread to the stats peacefully. They had taken out several tyrants in their heyday but they had become little more than a bureaucratic clubhouse. The chance of them stopping whatever was going on was none, even if a tyrant did takeover they'd study it for years and years before the first bad note was sent.
“I'm taking the middle seat, Lily. I need to fly this thing.” Jake told her.
“I thought Bolt was going to fly it, or a computer.” she said with a concerned look on her face. Then she winked at him and pulled his arm. “I'm just playing.”
With that they all took a seat on the aircraft, feeling exposed since they were on the outside. “It's like a motorcycle with wings” Bolt had said.
Jake started up the engines, as Bolt hit a button on his wrist and the roof opened up for them. The engines whined as they spooled up and when the power was more than sixty percent, he turned on the thrust and the aircraft rose upward. A bit to one side and then the other, as Jake tried to get a feel for it, as soon as the roof was cleared he began to nudge it toward forward flight.
Soon they were moving at a good clip and were already getting to the lakes that made up the oasis this world was named for. Jake increased altitude until the lakes were small and behind them. They were flying over the belt of farms and orchards, the expanse of green was beautiful from up there.
Suddenly the land angled downward and the orchards gave way to a grassy scrub-covered land, they had reached the area between the settlement and the plateau. Jake flew steadily, trying not to be threatening in anyway. Bolt got his attention and motioned for him to use the radio. Jake had totally forgotten about that.
He turned it on and heard voices. “Blue One, Up Four. Angels Six.... Roger, rolling.”
Jake didn't understand any of that but he had to break in. “Hey, we're flying to the plateau, we are not armed. We come in peace, this is important. Does anyone hear me?”
After a pause he heard. “I think someone is using our frequency.”
Then “Looks like we have company, look alive people. We need to show the flag!”
Almost as quickly five flying vehicles appeared as dots over the plateau but within seconds had passed them and were turning around.
“Blue lead here. We have a three-seater incoming!” he heard over the radio “Please advise.”
Jake looked side to side. There were two Air Knights on each side of them, he looked around for the other one. It was behind and above them. That person had an easy target if they were cleared to stop the intrusion.
“Escort them to East Field, directly. If they stray, boom them.” the clearly female voice told the Air Knights who were surrounding him. Jake concentrated when two of the Knights got out in front and pulled to the right. Jake could make out some buildings to his left, some greenhouses in the distance possibly but he was headed away from these things.
Two of the lead Knights dropped low, popped drag chutes and then slid to a stop. Jake pulled back on the stick and went into a hover and then slowly dropped to the landing zone. As the vehicle touched the ground they were surrounded by at least three dozen of the Knights, their uniforms did vary a little with a different color stripe on their sides.
“I need to ask something from you or your leaders.” Jake said as he took the helmet off “It's about the lock-down at the council, I think.”
“I remember you!” a girl stepped forward, it was Ria, “Did you really want to follow me all the way home like a puppy?”
The other Knights laughed, but Ria walked right up to him after he got off the vehicle. “What was this all about again? If this isn't good, I'll push you off the plateau myself.”
“I think the man who shot at you might have been working for Council member Campo.” Jake told her, she looked a little taken aback.
“What makes you say that?”
“His goons beat up my dad and trashed our factory!” Bolt said.
“Someone has been restricting access to weapons and ammunition, in secret. I think only someone on the council can get that kind of power.” Lily said.
A tall boy came forward, his red hair was cut to the top of his head like a small cap. “I guess that means we know who we're at war with then.”
“Hando, we don't get to decide those things.” Ria said “We need to take them to see the Administrator, so they can tell their story and then we can kick them off.”
She sounded serious but some of the other Knights snickered.
They were taken to a large white building with a small greenhouse connected to the side, they were brought into the greenhouse. It was lined with plants in large pots and small trees, but the center was a pool of water and farther down there was gym equipment.
“This building is the barracks.” Ria told them.
A boy and a girl were swimming laps in the pool. None of the three of them had ever seen a pool in person, living on a desert world. Hando looked like he found their reaction amusing. As Ria left to get the Administrator.
“This building is your barracks?” Bolt asked “You mean for all the pilots?”
“Not just pilots” Hando told him “We have people who take care of the engines and maintenance too, our air controllers and even some soldiers.”
“Are they all as young as you and Ria?” Jake asked
“Not all of us. We are allowed to stay in until we're twenty-two, then we have to move on to other jobs. Nobody complains because by then, most of us will be married, and you can't raise kids in the barracks, of course. Any other questions?” Hando said. Jake wondered if that was true or if this guy was messing with them. Air Knights were well-known at not telling secrets to outsiders.
Jake watched the Knights lifting weights, swimming and jogging outside on a trail. They were very disciplined, followed orders and conformed to the rules. These people lived close to the opposite of himself, running free in Oasis City. Jake thought they were kind of cool though.
Finally Ria was back, followed by a man in robes, probably getting close to fifty. “I am Administrator Brahma, what can I do for you?”
“We need to stop Council member Campo from taking over the government.” Jake said.
The Administrator held up a hand. “I admit that the shooting incident and the lock-down and the assaults are probably all related. I'll even concede there may be a coup in progress. I cannot, however, agree that there is definitely Mr. Campo at the top of it all.”
Jake was about to argue, but suddenly it made sense. Mr. Campo was far too obvious as the bad guy in this. He was an ideologue and he was bombastic and the attention he was getting made him look exactly like the perfect suspect.
Brahma was right, none of the evidence pointed at Campo. It didn't point to anyone, really. Whoever was behind all these things was still unknown. Campo was still a suspect, no doubt, but the thought that it might be someone else was a bit troubling.
“So, we might not know who we are at war with after all. Just that we are at war.” Hando said jovially “That really clears it all up.”
Brahma nodded. “We are, most definitely, at war.”
Go to Part Three
Go to Part Three
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