Escape to the Oasis

By René Dario Herrera

The two of them had been on the road, for five hours. He had spent the last two hours asleep. The old man’s dark hair had only recently started to gray, and his forehead had a few light wrinkles set across his forehead. Tlayolotl, sat, sound asleep, in the front passenger seat of the car traveling along the desert road. The car had been modified to make the nine-hour trip across the desert wasteland on one tank of fuel. It carried other essential upgrades, including an airtight seal to keep the toxic dust out and an air recycling system to keep carbon dioxide levels in the cabin low. A failure of those systems or a stop in any place on the road could be fatal.

Thanks to her body modifications and upgrades, Xochimitl, looked and felt younger than her younger brother, Tlayolotl. She was seventy-eight years old, but her olive skin was smooth and unblemished, as if in her natural twenties. She wore an ultraviolet resistant headscarf because her onyx colored hair implants reflected and amplified light. Normally her vibrant, silky smooth hair was uncovered, but the danger of reflecting the UV in the desert necessitated the coverage. In order to make the trip without stopping, she replenished her endocrine booster implant to stay alert and augmented her eagle-vision ocular implants with additional ultraviolet and x-ray filters. Though the sky appeared cloudy and overcast, the solar radiation penetrating the sky above the desert would scorch any exposed organic matter, causing permanent damage within a matter of minutes. Eyeballs were particularly susceptible to UV and x-ray radiation. The new filters in her ocular implants would protect her natural eyes. Her eyes being one of the few natural things remaining about her physical body.

Earlier in their drive, Xochimitl and Tlayolotl had a conversation about what it meant to be alive. Xochimitl had said, “I used to think that life was a game of accumulation. Win or lose. A person could spend their time, working for a corporation, climb the ladder, make a name for yourself, build wealth. Or a person could live at the edge of the economy, and be dependent on the generosity of the wealthy. I worked to make that happen for myself. I performed my life as a good corporate citizen and played the role of a lifelong employee.”

Tlayolotl, sat up in his seat, turned to face his sister, and, aware of his UV resistant balaclava and eye protection covering his face and eyes, he gestured with his hands to indicate he was listening.

Xochimitl’s peripheral sensor implant flagged the gesture for her and displayed an alert on the lens of the ocular implant. She said, “Inside, I’ve always felt out of place. The corporate path was something I thought might help. I didn’t think I had any other option. We’re socialized to live in pursuit of wealth, but the pursuit doesn’t value creativity or individuality. I see you, brother, and I wonder how things might have been different for me if I had followed a more natural path. Maybe, if I had not buried myself in my work or in my career, I could have found more beauty and peace.”

Tlayolotl touched his face over the balaclava to adjust the microphone underneath and said, “Xochi, what matters is that we are together today as a family. Each moment we share is a gift. If you decide to stay with me at the Oasis, we will manage a new life. You’ll see.”

Tlayolotl had explained to Xochimitl that the Oasis was located at the other end of the desert. The Oasis Society was an enclave of naturalist enthusiasts who had found and settled one of the few remaining natural and sustainable areas on the planet. In the last five hundred years, the international corporations of Earth had staked their claim on most of the planet’s surface. Mergers, acquisitions, and political alliances allowed them to operate with little oversight. Eventually, very few independent societies remained. Even fewer societies had access to a natural area. The steady environmental decay forced migration into the dense urban megacities. Thanks to massive domes, the cities offered some protection from the hazards of climate change.

Xochimitl remembered that Tlayolotl had always favored keeping his body natural and free from body modifications, only allowing for tattoo art and piercing his ears and septum. At an early age, he had found a deep interest in the ancient traditions of their ancestors. When he was old enough, he chose to decorate his body with tattoos depicting Mixtec symbols from a thousand years earlier and lab grown crystal jewelry to mimic the sacred jade and obsidian. Their parents had clung to ideas of traditional values, and this experience imprinted on Tlayolotl. Xochimitl wasn’t surprised that Tlayolotl had decorated himself the way he did, but she was surprised with how he abstained completely from any technological or biomedical body modifications all this time. At sixty-two years old, he still had many more years of life ahead of him, but without replacement, his organs would eventually fail. Only in the past century had biomedical technology advanced to push the human lifespan beyond comprehension, for those who could afford it.

Xochimitl thought back to the conversation they had many years ago when Tlayolotl had first explained how he needed her help to get to the Oasis. He had told her, “Xochi, the Oasis is not out of our reach. We can go there together. I know how to find it, and you’re going to take us there.”

The little brother had some gift for convincing his older sister because she agreed. Xochimitl said, “Tlayo, I will take you, but I cannot stay there. You know, the type of people who live in the Oasis will not accept me as I am, and I cannot undo what I have become.”

Tlayolotl, an old man, still acted like the bratty kid who pestered Xochimitl for attention when they were younger. She loved her brother with all that remained of her natural heart.

In preparation for the journey, Xochimitl acquired several new body upgrades for herself, a car, and supplies. The responsibility fell to her because Tlayolotl did not work. Naturalists were stigmatized for their abstinence of technology, and it was nearly impossible for him to find a way to earn money. It took her nine years to gather everything they needed to make the trip to the Oasis and for her return trip to the city.

Tlayolotl had lived off of basic his entire adult life. He was motivated to focus on health and wellness. He would spend hours each day at the library, pouring over digital copies of historical texts, and he built vast knowledge about the world for himself. His interest was in physical wellness. Where others found medical solutions in organ replacement, he invested in prevention. He used his basic income, and gifts from Xochimitl, to purchase healthy foods and be active. Under the protection of the city’s dome he walked everywhere, and he abstained from drugs and alcohol. A naturalist, Tlayolotl was an outcast.

Here on the road to the Oasis they found themselves together again. They were a family, and they had a chance at something real.