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by Ana Maria Larson 7 months ago in science fiction

Tucson, 2040

View from Skyline Country Club, Tucson, May 2021

The last monsoon had been in 2019, the year that Camila died. That same week, Notre Dame burned. It was as if God had taken two great women, Camila, and the cathedral herself, and felled them, one with water, one with fire, all in one week. 2019 was followed by 2020, the year of the global pandemic. Leticia believed 2020 was the fault of stupid Hollywood scriptwriters. She envisioned a party full of scriptwriters, where they each conceived of all the potential post-apocalyptic movie scripts they could write and put all the plots in a jar. Instead of choosing one disaster, they chose them all. Unfortunately, those same scriptwriters were also unaware of her abuela's teachings that imagining evil could bring it into reality.

By 2021, so many horrible things had happened that hardly anyone noticed when the US Government finally announced that UFOs were real. So, the fact that there was no monsoon in 2020 wasn't met with too terribly much concern, a few grumbles and worried looks, especially among the elders, but certainly the rain would be back next year. Only next year turned into the next and then the next. Water became scarce and rationing started. Still, developers continued to build, certain in the aquifer supplies. The drought which had started as “severe”, was first re-classified as “extreme”, only to have a new superlative added to the scale “mega”.

Water rationing started with orders not to water with sprinklers, and then later, even outdoor drip systems were not to be used. Pools were closed. Households were limited to two gallons of water per person per day. At first it was an honor system but when the water supplies diminished, ration tokens were distributed. You had to insert your tokens in a device that was attached to your water meter, like a parking meter, and then your water would run, at least for the two gallons you were allotted for that day. Eventually, most of the people gave up and fled north. Only a few dedicated souls remained in the Tucson basin flats.

The people in the flats prayed for rain and danced each monsoon season, lighting votive candles and praying fervently. But the rain hadn’t come now for twenty years. Where once there had been saguaros, cholla, and barrel cactus, now there was just dirt, sand, and more dirt. Dirt that blew and got into every crevice, dirt that covered your skin and stuck to your clothes and got in your lungs. Where once there were trees and pine forests on the top of Mt. Lemmon, and maybe an occasional snow, now the mountains sat in nude silence with burnt tree stumps dotting the mountainsides with their dead carcasses.

Leticia thought of her nephew, Rogelio, living on the south side of Tucson near no man’s land. He lived in the flats where the only sight of water were the shimmering mirages created by heat reflecting off the concrete. Rogelio was a firefighter and an EMT. His mother, Leticia’s older sister Camila, had drowned in a rip current and so he dedicated his life to saving others. He was well on his way to achieving his goal when she died, but her death only served to solidify his decision.

No one in the family had the courage to look through her things or the physical or emotional strength to deal with her loss. So, her sister Camila’s belongings were quickly stored and hidden away, of all places, in Rogelio’s father’s house. A house with no water and no hope, located in the worst part of Tucson, south of the wall, in no-man’s land. No one was supposed to live there anymore, because there was no running water and the heat was too much to bear. But the refugees and migrants knew that ICE wouldn’t chase them into no-man’s land, so they often squatted there on their way north. Thousands upon thousands of people, fleeing violence and repression in their home countries, continued their northward migration from south and central America, Mexico, and now the United States, to parts north.

Rogelio wasn’t surprised when his Dad called to tell him that the house had burned down. God knows it was hot enough for it to do so practically spontaneously. Nonetheless, he felt obliged to go look and see if there was something, anything, from his mother he could salvage and hold, even a small trinket would do. He wandered through the charred remains of the building, hoping for something, anything. In a corner he found a fireproof box, and inside of it a small jewelry case with a locket of gold. It was a heart-shaped locket with a few diamonds or more likely, rhinestones, on the front. He opened it, expecting to find a baby photo of himself. But inside of the locket all he found was a lock of hair and the initials “B.B.”

Rogelio called his aunt Leticia and they discussed who “B.B.” might be. Leticia was unsure, but she thought that B.B. might be Camila’s old friend, Barbara who lived at Skyline. They hadn’t spoken since Camila’s death. After the rationing began in 2021, anyone who could do so, fled to Skyline, or further north of the wall. But to get admitted to Skyline, you had to own property there or be able to demonstrate that you belonged to a family that did. Skyline Club membership was strictly limited to the people with the right genes – those of the original Tucsonans, as determined by the Tucson genetic registry. Skyline was privileged – they had water, flying cars, and posh houses resting on the hills high above the city. Pools dotted the hillsides. Water wasn’t a problem in Skyline.

Anxious to learn whose hair was in the locket and who B.B. was, Leticia sent the lock of hair for testing to the genetic registry committee and the results were surprising. Test results proved that it belonged to her nephew, Rogelio. The results also unexpectedly proved he was the genetic grandson of Don Baron, Barbara’s father, and one of the original Tucsonans, and as a result both he and Leticia were eligible for admission to Skyline. Leticia had had had no idea of the arrangement, conceived in secret as only two close girlfriends could do. Barbara, Camila’s friend, had donated one of her eggs so that Camila could give birth to Rogelio, and he was the result of the donation. Barbara had passed away in 2020 from Covid, so the secret was lost with the death of the two great friends.

Rogelio, longing for a better life for himself and his family, petitioned for entry for himself and his aunt to Skyline. Rogelio and his aunt were very fortunate, as few people ever received late admission to Skyline. Rogelio transferred to the Skyline fire department and went to work in his chosen profession in his new community. Instead of responding to drive-by shootings, drug overdoses, and homicides, he spent his time dealing with the mundane aches and pains and domestic squabbles of the rich and elderly. He missed the excitement of his old job, but not the constant scent of death.

One day a few months after their relocation to Skyline, Rogelio got a call about a medical emergency at the Skyline water plant. He and his team responded and helped the manager, who was suffering from chest pains, one among several boring calls that day. But something nagged at the back of his consciousness about that call. The water treatment plant was eerily quiet, and yet there were a lot of guards inside, each warily watching their every move. Nonetheless, Rogelio didn’t think much more about it for a few months, until he got together with one of his old buddies from the Tucson flat’s fire house. That friend told him in hushed tones rumors of entire migrant families disappearing never to be seen again.

Rogelio began to question -- where does Skyline’s water come from? His thoughts turned to that call a few months back at the water treatment plant, yet he couldn’t quite put the pieces together. One day, Rogelio was visiting Leticia at her new home in Skyline and as they sat on the elegant couch in her Arizona room, with a fabulous view of the flats below, Leticia imparted some words of wisdom from her abuela as she passed him a glass – “Agua Es Vida”- “Vida es Agua”.

Without any words or knowing looks exchanged, Rogelio now knew where the migrant’s bodies were disappearing to, and where the water was from. The monsoon has not yet returned, but the people below still pray for rain. Little do they realize that within their own bodies, composed of 60% water, they held the answer to those prayers, at least for the residents of Skyline.

science fiction

Ana Maria Larson

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