the oasis

“You were right, Carr. This place is magical.”

A warm, ambient melody wafts through the cool night air.

Gentle blue and pink lights wash over the crowd.

Everyone gazes up at the makeshift scaffolding and black drapes of the stage. A silent hooded lady stands at centerstage. She picks and pokes at the electric pads and synths and cords and cables twisted and wrapped around her.

Long, soothing notes drone out from all her machines.

“Knew you’d like it,” Carson smiles down at Alex. “Nice calm music, lots of people ’round just havin’ a happy time. Real peaceful energy out here.”

The moon hangs over the small lake beside them.

The water glows with moonlight as it softly rolls and ripples up to the sandy shore.

Palm trees breeze above their heads.

Warm sand hugs their feet.

“Wasn’t expecting the Oasis to be this chill,” Alex laughs. “Thought you’d be taking us to some kind of rowdy bonfire rave or something.”

“Oh ya?” Carson chuckles. “Think I’m the rowdy type, do ya?”

“Well you do love rowdy parties,” Alex nudges his shoulder and giggles.

“Still do sometimes,” Carson grins. “Growin’ older, though. Gettin’ wilded ain’t the same thrill it used to be. These days, would rather be vibin’ out by some water. With a cute guy.”

Alex giggles again as Carson swings an arm around him.

The little desert lake splashes against the shallow dunes.

The ambient music sparkles with soft notes as the stars twinkle above the lake.

Hundreds of people fill the sands around them. Some slowly wave their hands and swaying to the soft music. Others smile and chatter around cozy campfires and plastic fold-up tables.

Dim blue and pink lights roll over them as the melody ascends and brightens.

“You look good in a t-shirt,” Alex nods over at his chest. “Haven’t seen you in anything other than your combat uniform in a long time.”

Carson giggles and holds him closer. “It’s just a white tee. Basic stuff.”

“You fill it out well,” Alex smirks. “Just take the compliment, you dork.”

“Thank ya,” Carson giggles again. “Shame we don’t get to be all casual like this more often.”

“It really is.” Alex sighs.

The ambient notes fade into a gentle electronic hum.

“Ay Alli,” Carson whispers down at him. “You know we don’t have to stay at Global Command, right?”

Alex sighs again. “Yes, they say that we can leave at any time. But the decommissioning process is a bureaucratic maze and the discharge protocols are brutal, we’d need months of surgeries and implant removals and gene edits and memory wipes, and even then, Aeschylus can just deny our discharge requests at any time if—”

“I don’t mean an honorable discharge,” Carson bumps in. “I’m talkin’ about just leaving.”

The lights from the stage grow dim again.

Moonlight bounces off the dark surface of the lake.

The crowd buzzes and murmurs as the ambient track grows quiet and the melody echoes and fades away.

Silence hangs over them.

Alex slowly processes Carson’s words.

The ambient track softly flows back out into the air.

“You mean just running away?” Alex whispers into Carson’s mind.

“You hate Global Command,” Carson whispers back. “You said it yourself on the ride over.”

Another silence.

They stare at the hooded lady on the stage. Her eyes dart between her machines, pressing and holding buttons and keys. Her warm droning sounds grow louder.

“How would we escape?” Alex asks. “Aeschylus has eyes everywhere.”

“Dunno how, but seems like your fancy new auto-bike glitched out our connection to Aeschylus.” Carson reads the bright lights and data points shining on the surface of his eyes. “Our sat link is still weak. Our control node is still busted. That means maybe Aeschylus don’t got his eyes on us for a while.”

“But how do we escape?” Alex asks again. “As soon as we get back into World Union territory, his satellites will find us and he’ll have full control over us again.”

The glittering stars gaze down out at them.

Drums beat and bass rumbles from off in the distance.

Way across the dark lake, red and orange and pink and purple strobe lights pulse to the distant beat.

“See that other side of the lake?” Carson nods over to the sprawling shoreline. “That’s where all the rowdy people go. I’m sure a few of ’em ain’t opposed to helpin’ us slip outta World Union’s grid. For the right price.”

“And then what? Alex holds Carson tight and squints into his hard, glazed-over eyes. “Do you even have a plan?”

“We improvise,” Carson shrugs. “Just like any other fight. Find whatever weapons we can. Hide when we gotta. Hit back when we gotta.”

Alex smirks up at him. “You want us to just go off the grid and fight Aeschylus freestyle?”

“Why not?” Carson smirks back down at him. “Got a better plan, babe?”

Alex laughs. His smirk turns to a smile. He wraps his arms around Carson’s shoulders. “It’s a ballsy strat, Carr. I’ll give you that much.”

Their chins flutter against one another.

Alex glances over Carson’s shoulder and out across the water.

The neon lights flicker and the music shakes along the far shore.

“You’re thinkin’ about that other side of the Oasis, ain’t ya?” Carson smiles. “Been a long time since we danced together.”