This story was originally published in Amok: Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction
The cargo ship in the bay is covered in a heavy grey rain, making it appear like a whale hovering over the water, still and alone, barely visible except in the occasional flash of lightening.
My sister Putri and I stand on the docks, waiting to be let on board. We are used to the rain, having worked for over two years on the unnamed island, one of many in an archipelago, where company biome plumes produce weather catered to certain crops. On the island of rain, the clouds unleashed a perpetual shower that grows enhanced stalks of rice swelling with syrupy sugar. For two agonizing years Putri and I have worked on those rice terraces, high above the plains, high enough to see the smoke plumes linking to the sky like chains.
The man from the cruise ship arrives, rain puttering on his wide yellow hood. “The captain will let you on,” he says. “You can cook, right?”
The man looks to Putri, at the dark hair covering her eyes from beneath a transparent umbrella. “And her. Your friend. She can wash dishes?”
“She’s my sister,” I say.
“Really?” The man turns to Putri, then back to me, and my much lighter complexion. We have already given him nearly all of our two-year savings, so I see no harm in placing some extra rupiah in his pocket.
He shrugs. “Whatever you say, chef.”
On the ship, Putri and I share a cabin with a large window to the ocean. The janitors and deckhands stare at us, marking their suspicions with turned eyebrows. It is obvious by our skin and hair that we were not really brother and sister, though she calls me Ar-ta, “brother” in her native tongue. Luckily, our lives are hidden behind the iron walls that separates the kitchen staff from the rest of the ship.
The cruise ship turns out to be the best gig Putri and I have had since our expulsion from the island Aoro, Putri’s native homeland. Like all the islands of the Casr archipelago, Aoro was set to be terraformed for a new crop, but first had to be scorched with clouds that rained fire to clear it of unwanted ecology. I was not supposed to be on the island. I was a light-skinned tourist with a penchant for traveling to unknown places, claiming land with every camera flash.
Aoro Journal Entry:
Success! I’m off the map! Lovely Island by the way, pristine and untouched. To think I’ll be one of the last people ever to see Aoro in its primitive state.
Hiked the red mountain today. Beautiful, but all the while heard loudspeakers warning “TERRAFORMING IN THREE DAYS. EVACUATE NOW.”
Some native people still on the island. Do they not understand the loudspeakers?
One day left and there are A LOT of natives still here. They refuse to leave their homes. Will the company still go through with it?
I left day five blank. How do you describe it when a strange man begs you to take his sister, and then disappears into the jungle? What do you think when you find yourself standing in line for the last boat off the island, holding the hand of a thirteen year old girl in a long yellow dress, whose name you do not even know?
After my shift in the kitchen I join Putri on the upper deck of the cargo ship and feel the cool air of a nearby desert island, where biome plumes create a cloudless dry sky, perfect for growing enhanced tomatoes and cucumbers.
“I’ve never breathed air so thin,” Putri says. “Like I’m not breathing at all. Makes me wanna spit.”
“It’s just like in Vel City,” I respond. “Where I was born.”
“If they ever let foreigners in Vel City, maybe I’ll see it one day.” She lets spit bubble from her lips before spewing it into the ocean. “You know, the managers here won’t buy our story much longer, Ar-ta.”
“There are other islands,” I say. “Other jobs.”
“What if we got married?” She wipes her mouth. “I’m old enough now.” She tilts her head slightly, her dark brown eyes dilated from the night’s darkness. “I keep thinking. What if that’s why my brother—my real brother—asked you to save me? For my people, who once worshipped the red mountain, lineage is all that matters. Pass on the seed, and we will never die.” She spits again, perhaps in disgust. “Why else would he give me away to a young, male foreigner?”
For the first time I feel something pent up inside me as I observe her lithe figure in the darkness. Part of me, it seems, has always, and will always, dream of her, with all the love I cannot hold.
In the morning, I wake to grey clouds crawling towards the window of our cabin. I feel Putri in my arms, still nude. Outside I see the bright white pallor of an island covered entirely in snow and ice. As my eyes adjust to the light, I spot a great glacier at its center, and its shores frozen over. Ice extends far into the horizon. A line of workers dressed in heavy coats unload metal that will be used to process canned fish.
“Ar-ta! Ar-ta!” Putri screeches, her face locked in a scream that will not come out. I see what she sees. The jagged rock encased in ice that was once a waterfall. The plain of clean snow that was once a forest. The glacier that was once a red colored mountain.
On the bed, Putri stands up, legs splayed, nude. She opens the window, letting that rush of freezing dry air envelope her naked body, shiver her skin, toss her hair wide.
“Come get it!” she screams, throwing her fists like a boxer. “Come try me! I will never, ever die! I will never die! I will never die!”