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Science Fiction

“A good Screecher is a dead Screecher.”

—Commander Sigit, Year 4096










After an eternity spent wiping the blood of two different races out of her eyes, the only thing Rani wants to do is melt into a puddle of numbness. The chrysalis before her can grant such luxuries; tailored to fit her proportions, it whispers sweet promises from against the wall like the mouth of a coffin.



As if to remind her she doesn’t have all day to decide if it’s a good idea to suspend all biological functions for three-and-a-half centuries, a muffled explosion from somewhere above ground sends the chamber into a trembling mess.



“They’re almost here,” hums one of only two beings in the chamber not tucked away inside a chrysalis—the other being Rani herself.



She nods at her companion. She’s been breathing the same air as these people long enough to detect the subtle nuances in pitch that indicate urgency, while also soothing her weary mind. She has to make a decision, after all.



She can choose life, and burn with the world.



Or she can choose death, and return once the flames have cleansed the planet anew.



To think that a few months ago, the answer would’ve been obvious. But then again, she’s not the girl she once was.




🪐




Rani’s face is locked into cold apathy as she blasts another Screecher into oblivion. Each round she unloads onto the damn things paints the jungle the fluorescent blue of their blood, and even though it thrills her to have such beautiful colors on her canvas, a smile never betrays her lips.



Emotion is for people back on Gaia, as the Commander would say. Rani is a weapon, molded by calloused fingers to slay and destroy and pave humanity’s future with hope.



A spear takes her by surprise, only to shatter against her BioSuit. A high-pitched screech cuts into her ears as she whirls around to meet two bulbous, lifeless eyes. The Screecher snaps like a twig, its spindly, vaguely-human form helpless in the face of a few plasma bullets. Another descends from the purple canopy above; it splatters against her visor when she sends it to meet whatever alien god they worship.



“Rani, you good?” pokes a voice inside her helmet, another weapon fighting alongside her somewhere nearby. 



“Mind your own business,” she snaps back as she collides with a tree. She cusses and wipes some of the gore off her visor, creating a big enough window to catch one of her BioSuit-clad comrades cutting a path through hordes of Screechers.



“Jeez, Rani, can’t you see the wood for the trees?”



“Very funny.”



She stumbles to the sidelines, frantically trying to dispel the Screecher guts clogging her line of sight. She throws a leash around her pounding heart, blows frigid air onto the annoyance simmering in her veins; anything to maintain composure.



But a gasp escapes her lips anyway when her foot meets empty air. As she plummets into darkness, the Commander’s eyes pierce her soul, and there has never been so much scrutiny in them.



I’m sorry, she thinks, right before the world abandons her like the air in her lungs.




🪐




The dregs of her memory piece themselves together slowly, gradually, like termites building a nest one pathetic grain of soil at a time.



(It started back on Gaia, where a little girl pulled away from her parents to gaze longingly into the gruff face on a recruitment poster.



Gaia is running dry, are the words that catapulted her from one military training course to the next. We need YOUR help to secure its future!



The girl grew up steeped in tales of faraway Earth, which her ancestors abandoned when it ran dry. She’ll die before the same fate befalls Gaia. She thinks of her home planet as a third parent, there to rock humanity to sleep in its cradle, there to respond to its wails of distress with food and warmth.



It’s only right to repay Gaia, who taught her to breathe pristine air and bask in the light of three suns. So, when Commander Sigit finally handed her a BioSuit and told her to get her ass on the space cruiser bound for a green planet, she found no desire to celebrate or rejoice.



After all, this is only her duty.)



Consciousness returns steadily, lethargically, a little speck of ink on paper that expands as the pen is held down. When it swells into a huge inkblot and her eyes register the dimness around her, she finds herself oddly at peace.



Until she realizes the faces staring down at her aren’t quite human.



Years of sparring practice banish all thought save for one self-directed command: Survive. Bolting upright, she finds herself in a sort of shallow tub; she springs off the edge, trailing water, and lands a bare heel in between two bulbous eyes. Never mind the fact that she’s not in her BioSuit (the only suit she has on is her birthday suit); feet planted on the stony ground of the dim chamber, she lashes out in the wake of the first Screecher, well-placed knuckles, knees and headbutts sending their tender frames crumpling to the ground.



As she builds a running start for her final captor, a strange sound wafts into her ears; it smoothes her rough edges, sweet-talks the thrill and rage roiling in her chest to a standstill. It’s not the intense screeching they’re named for, but something melodious. A sort of pleasant but persistent hum.



She comes to a halt, not exactly incapable of raising a fist but rather, not wanting to. The humming journeys through different notes, rising and falling like gentle waves, soft brushstrokes painting cool blue over the red inside her. It opens up to her, a language that is wordless but no less meaningful:



We could have restrained you, but we didn’t. We could have hurt you, but we didn’t. You could be dead, but you are… here.



Guilt settles as Rani surveys the Screechers groggily climbing to their feet, hums laced with pain. She studies the one before her, with its slightly larger frame, confident posture, and tendrils of regal purple cloth instead of dull rags. The biologists back at base haven’t drawn any conclusions regarding sexual dimorphism, but something about this one comes off as a “he.”



No, an “it,” she angrily corrects herself. But then the Screecher hums a tune that goes, Let me show you, and Rani tentatively obliges as he leads her out of the chamber.










“I waited on the sidelines, hoping to collect samples after the soldiers were done. I had to excuse myself by faking a headache—one more blood-curdling screech and I’d have gone insane. The BioSuits must filter the noise; only a psycho would keep kicking when a puppy begs for its life.”

—Journal entry by Professor Kresno, Year 4097  










They show Rani where they’ve stashed her plasma rifle and semi-battered BioSuit on the first day, but she feels no need to redeem them. She has to absorb this world she has tumbled into with eyes and ears, not through a visor. She has to understand these… these feelings.



It doesn’t take long for her to realize she’s hit the fucking jackpot. The Commander would jizz in his combat pants if he ever saw a team of Screechers scrape edible fungi from a moist cavern interior. Or a Screecher teaching an infant the basics of the spear. Or a snug, well-ventilated chamber sheltering thousands of oversized rice grains that can only be their eggs.



The Nest, she fathoms as she’s led down a massive stone walkway that stretches between two underground cliff faces. It’s been right under our feet for years!



The days flit past like a butterfly, swift and dazzling. They give her a ragged outfit that looks like it’s been hastily strung together from vines and leaves; it places her entire midriff and a good dose of underboob on display, but she never detects anything resembling an inappropriate remark in their hums.



She sleeps to the gentle glow of bioluminescent moss in a little rock-hewn chamber, and she wakes to the light of the day-moon filtering through a translucent ceiling (which is technically the ground, but living here does strange things to your sense of direction).



Driven by curiosity, she explores her gilded cage, though never alone; some days the regal one accompanies her, but usually it’s “lesser” ones that hum a little quieter than he does. If there’s any way of getting back to the surface, they’re doing a damn good job of steering her in a different direction.



After the rations from her BioSuit run dry, she has to force down the fungus like everyone else. They shoot her weirder looks than normal when she frantically douses her serving with what’s left of her emergency Tabasco sauce, which by some miracle makes the stuff taste worse. She wakes up in bed a few hazy hours later (judging by the internal clock of her BioSuit) with a splitting headache, and that’s when she suspects the fungus has some kind of psychoactive effect. At least she can force herself to eat by developing a borderline-addiction.



What if I put on my BioSuit? she wonders one day as she watches a gruff-looking Screecher carve the stone point of a spear into smoothness. None of them would stand a chance.



They decided to return it and her rifle to her chamber a week ago, so she isn’t sure what’s stopping her. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s treated like one of their own, save for the constant guard duty. Maybe it's the perpetual background humming that flows from every household and douses her flames whenever they reignite.



Maybe she doesn’t want to see the world through a visor ever again. Now that orders aren’t being barked through a radio and the song of death isn’t being censored by audio modulators, she can finally… breathe.



People. As much as it gnaws at her soldier’s sensibilities to admit it, that’s what the Screechers are. She can see it in the way they carry their maggot-like offspring with ginger hands, in the way their humming treads happiness as much as hate or confusion, in the way a dreary tune hangs over everyone like icicles whenever a scouting party returns with fewer members than when it embarked. If they return at all.



She surprises herself further by pining for their company when the guards finally disappear. Soon she isn’t lending an extra hand in the quarries to earn her share of the fungus, but because she can’t go a day without hearing the signature hum of her companions. There’s something perfect about the way they communicate; their emotions and intentions laid bare for all the world to see, no spoken words for ulterior motives to skulk behind. Rani suspects it’s why there’s so little strife down here, and when there is, the guilt-ridden perpetrator is given a second chance. There is always, always understanding between them. She can’t help but feel… inferior.



Singers, she decides to call them one day. Because it’s the sort of sound she wants to wake up to.



Despite a palpable language barrier, she can still converse with them, to an extent. Perhaps it’s the emotional nuances in her tone that they can pick up, or her facial cues that those bulbous eyes are so good at watching. She figures this is why they’re keeping her around: to extract information regarding her kind. But they never prod her about it. In fact, it’s her tales of playing tag with her classmates back on Gaia that make them lean closer.



What do they want? she wonders one day as she waits for a plump individual to finish ejecting eggs out of their rear. It’s been months and she’s never caught one enjoying another’s company, so they probably reproduce asexually. What do they want, if it’s not to kick us off their planet? All the eggs literally in the same basket, she heads to the nursery, where she attracts the approving hum of a caretaker as she deposits them. To think these are the same hands that gripped a plasma rifle. Because it’s only a matter of time before the mining operations find this place.



And then I’ll be alone.










“Anyone else care to raise an objection? Good. BioSuit or not, I don’t give a rat’s ass—you either get me results, or get a bullet in the back of the head.”

—Archived audio recording of Commander Sigit, moments after correcting Professor Kresno’s misdemeanor (so to speak), Year 4097










Who would’ve thought all Rani had to do was ask? Crouched in a tree after two weeks of spear practice, she surveys the specks of light in the night below. She’d be more than happy to use her BioSuit against her fellow humans, but the damn thing gives off a signal that above-ground units can detect. Not to mention, the very thought of putting it back on makes her breathing go shallow.



It’s almost as if the Singers welcome their demise, being sent to the surface only to be turned into blue paste. Maybe Rani can change that. Maybe she can talk sense into the Commander, show him how human they really are.



She listens to laughter bubbling up from the campfire below, to the jokes and jeers being handed out like bottles of booze. It’s a biting cacophony, and yet longing blooms inside her. But if these were still her people, she’d have brought her BioSuit.



Thunder overhead sends tremors through the tree she’s perched on; her heart leaps when she almost loses her footing. Wait, thunder? No, that’s…



She shirks back from the intensity of it: a metal sky snuffing out the stars and filling the air with the bellow of a thousand engines. Three space cruisers, each as big as a megacity. She doesn’t want to find out how many trigger-happy reinforcements are about to rain down hell on the planet.



Tears brimming in her eyes, she climbs down and makes the journey home just as the acrid stench of smoke begins to fill the air. Laughter echoes in the dark, and it sounds so… alien.




🪐




The pieces fall in place when Regal—her name for the well-dressed one that is apparently their leader—shows her a spacious chamber lined with shallow tubs identical to the one she woke up in. This place is deep in the planet, he hums. Deeper than the ore the invaders want so bad.



“I’m so sorry,” is all Rani can say as she watches the entire populace clamber into individual tubs.



Don’t be. They may destroy our fungus gardens, our homes and our legacy, but they will never destroy us.



Rani studies a Singer in a tub. They radiate peace as they slumber under perfect, pale-blue water. No, not water. She recalls how she left her tub without a single cut or bruise even though she survived a fall she shouldn’t have. If only the Commander was willing to listen; cooperating with the Singers might have been humanity’s solution all along. Instead, her kind bleeds one planet dry after the next, leaving only dust in their wake and never coming to the terms with the fact that it can’t last them forever.



Her look is questioning enough to warrant an explanation. We wait, declares Regal as the last of the Singers enter their tubs. Only when the planet has healed will we return. And we will be better.



Chrysalis, is what Rani decides to call the tubs. I will be better.



Even with the chamber in tremors from whatever blasphemy the Commander is inflicting on the planet, Rani can only feel peace as she clambers into the chrysalis and rests her weary soul.



She really isn’t the girl she once was.




🪐




Wake up.



The tune is familiar, warm, paternal. A gentle force wraps around her wrist and pulls her past a thin membrane. Dripping with fluids, she is led through a curtain of grogginess, and the hums around her have never been so clear: hope, relief, a dose of uncertainty.



Look.



Her vision returns, but it’s different; crisper, sharper, the hues more vivid despite there being a choking grey barrenness instead of lush foliage. She hums her dismay, until Regal gestures to a crown of petals peeking out of a lump of dirt. Finally does the air ring with the tune of triumph.



She gazes at the people around her—her people—and takes in the face reflected in their eyes: gaunt, blob-eyed, inhuman. But no less… her.



She doesn’t know what’s become of humanity; where they’ve gone, what world they’re crushing under spiked soles, or if they even still exist. Maybe it’s only inevitable that the universe crumbles before them.



Rani hums a song of tranquility, which the others join in on. Humanity can fight their never ending battle all they want, but she’ll take it easy.










“A BioSuit and plasma rifle identified as belonging to Rani Hastinah was uncovered in the abandoned Nest. Though she has been presumed dead, some speculate she survived thanks to the native intelligent species and even lived among them for some time. I don’t believe I need to stress how absurd the notion is.”

—Mission report sent by Captain Iswara to Commander Sigit, Year 4102


October 10, 2020 03:32

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24 comments

Elle Clark
08:28 Oct 16, 2020

I’m so far behind on stories but I’m catching up and I’m glad I started with this one! What a story! I am a total sucker for a reformed soldier who recognises the value of the lives they’re attacking. This was reminiscent of Avatar and Fern Gully and I really enjoyed it.

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Rayhan Hidayat
08:34 Oct 16, 2020

Thanks! I definitely took a page out of Avatar for this one. And Omg you just unearthed a repressed childhood memory of mine--I distinctly remember watching a film about fairies and a logging company but couldn't place the name until you mentioned it. So thanks for that haha ;)

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Elle Clark
08:37 Oct 16, 2020

Oh Fern Gully was such a great movie (I’m convinced it was the basis for Avatar). I should find that film again. Robin Williams is a drug-crazed bat so what is there to dislike??

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Rayhan Hidayat
09:05 Oct 16, 2020

As appropriate for a kid's film haha. Robin Williams really was everywhere, wasn't he? RIP. Oh and when can we expect a new story? I'm having Laura Clark withdrawal here and I'm not sure if I'll make it :)

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Bianka Nova
17:45 Oct 11, 2020

Ray, your imagination knows no borders 🙃 I know it's science fiction, but in its essence I believe this one to be a commentary on the pointlessness of war. If only people would stop and listen to the hums for a while... Your writing is full with vivid and colorful lines; I must say I especially liked this one: "Consciousness returns steadily, lethargically, a little speck of ink on paper that expands as the pen is held down." My ingrained spell check managed to catch just one typo - "douses her seving" - I believe it should be serving 😉 ...

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Rayhan Hidayat
00:45 Oct 12, 2020

Yep, you got it! This is really just the usual “humans are bad, war is bad, violence isn’t the answer, etc.” story. Nothing too original, I know 🙃 If you’re still willing to put up with me, I’d love your thoughts on my more recent story—I’m a lot more proud of that one. And yes, I like to think Tabasco will never cease to exist. It’s just too precious. My hot sauce-loving ass couldn’t cope without it. And thanks for the spellcheck! Oh yay, you read my bio! I’m not sure many people even read that far down but I figured a few shoutouts w...

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Bianka Nova
10:53 Oct 12, 2020

Maybe, who knows... 🙃 I am indeed planning to read more of your work (also Forevergreen, since I saw people mentioning it in awe quite a few times), but I'm throwing in between other stories, so that it doesn't look like I have a favorite on here 😉

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Rayhan Hidayat
11:24 Oct 12, 2020

All right then, keep your secrets... Haha fair enough. I hope I'm not being persistent. Laura Clark actually put "Forevergreen" up for shortlisting. Obviously I didn't make the cut, but I still feel a little special, y'know? :P

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A.Dot Ram
18:04 Oct 10, 2020

The bright blue blood and colors on her canvas-- death has rarely looked so beautiful. (To your credit! I'm not complaining) .

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Rayhan Hidayat
02:41 Oct 11, 2020

Thanks! I never looked at it that way, but I suppose blue alien blood would be quite pretty to look at

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Kristin Neubauer
15:44 Oct 10, 2020

That's wild, Rayhan! You've got such an imagination and Rani is such a cool and well-developed character. Fantastic!

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Rayhan Hidayat
02:53 Oct 11, 2020

Thanks for the encouragement! Yes this was definitely one of the strangest stories I’ve written haha

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A.G. Scott
08:40 Oct 10, 2020

Pog Cool cool cool. Strange, but a lot of fun. Did the liquid literally turn her into a singer? If so, would it be reasonable to assume that all the singers were once human, but have since become symbiotic with whatever is in the chrysalis? I also really enjoy the interstitials - they help build the world while separating the main story into digestible chunks. Good idea.

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Rayhan Hidayat
08:48 Oct 10, 2020

Thanks again for the comment! Yes, she is a Singer by the end of it, which essentially is supposed to symbolize how she has defected. And ooh that symbiosis idea is really cool, that could actually be an awesome theory... though I won’t confirm nor deny it 😉 I’m glad you like the interstitials, it’s a sort of thing I add for fun in a few of my stories

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I. F.
15:31 Oct 20, 2020

It's been a while since I've read one of your stories, and I'm so glad to finally be catching up. Sci-fi with a big scope, the setting reminded me of the movie Avatar. I'm not usually a big fan of sci-fi, but I really enjoyed this. Despite its large scope, it was very focused on the character and little moments throughout, which is impressive. I think you have a gift for condensing large stories/sagas into short stories!

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Rayhan Hidayat
01:22 Oct 21, 2020

Thanks Itay! I’ve definitely tried to do exactly that—condense the big things into little things, so I’m glad you thought it turned out alright. 😙

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Ray Dyer
19:47 Oct 13, 2020

I love the character-driven nature of this story. Others have said this, but the "other species" in this story fills a role that is really "other." The idea that fear stems from ignorance, and with familiarity comes the realization that all sentient things really want the same basic things - this story captured those feelings quite well. Thank you for sharing it! I really liked the line, "Maybe she doesn’t want to see the world through a visor ever again." It wasn't just a pivotal moment of the main character; it was a turning point in th...

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Rayhan Hidayat
00:43 Oct 14, 2020

Thanks for the generous comment! Yep, you got it—the visor bit, and the mission report at the end. Glad the themes I explored got through! 😙

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Shreya S
13:06 Oct 13, 2020

At ‘“I waited on the sidelines... for its life.” —Journal entry by Professor Kresno, Year 4097’, I gasped out loud. And then continued to have my hands cupping my mouth for the rest of the story. I really really can’t emphasize how much fun I have reading your stories. Have I ever mentioned I love those kind of log records you put in the middle of the story? You’ve done it twice before I think, i definitely remember reading it in Shell. The brackets thing and this thing- they make the reading experience surreal. She hums in the end, so...

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Rayhan Hidayat
16:05 Oct 13, 2020

Oh I love that you love the log records. You know how in some fantasy/sci-fi novels they have these little epigraphs at the beginning/end of chapters (Dune, Mistborn, etc.) that flesh out the world? Basically I try to replicate that in some of my stories. And I don’t see anyone else doing it, so I guess it’s kinda my signature? Maybe? Oh wow. Thanks. I’m not super in love with this story (at least compared to ones like Shell as you mentioned, which is still my favorite) but I’m glad you like it. And yes, she is one of them by the end! ...

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Yolanda Wu
04:48 Oct 10, 2020

Wow! This was such a cool story. I don't usually read sci-fi, but you made it so interesting with every word and description. I loved Rani's character and watching her develop throughout the story. I thought each of the scenes were intriguing, and you always ended with such a poetic line. I especially like this one, "Laughter echoes in the dark, and it sounds so… alien" and this one, "Humanity can fight their never ending battle all they want, but she’ll take it easy." I love how you ended the story with a little excerpt which kinda leaves R...

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:16 Oct 10, 2020

Thanks for the generous comment! Honestly as someone that writes fantasy as good as you, sci-fi might be something you should try out. Some people even consdier it to be a type of fantasy: just replace the magic with some made up science stuff basically 😙 And you’re very welcome! 😂 Honestly I have no idea whos gonna read my bio but on the slim chance they do, I want them to know who the authors here worth reading are 😉

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Yolanda Wu
05:21 Oct 10, 2020

I have written a total of one sci-fi story in my life. Honestly, I think it really is about time that I try some more sci-fi. I always love reading people's bios, and your bio was an absolute delight to read, thanks again for the lovely mention.

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:28 Oct 10, 2020

Yeah you really should, I didn’t realize how fun it was until I wrote that story about a robot if you remember 😙

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