Bio Fantasy

Written by Melissa Sunjaya
Illustrated by Melissa Sunjaya

Like a blazing coronet atop her pale face, the filaments of her auburn hair dance gracefully to the downtempo legato of the current. With both eyes closed, her mind is active, yet serenely undisturbed by the function of time. She has been in a deep sleep inside a laboratory flask for nearly three hundred and eighty-eight thousand minutes. Her surrounding biosphere is an elastic medium, concocted of a lucid, gel-like substance with a texture depicting the slow-motioned gust of interlacing waves. Her contorted spine compels her tiny figure to resemble a nesting cocoon swaying peacefully inside a filmy globule, which in accordance with her pulse, continuously morphs from one organic shape to the next.

The density of the air provided balance and protection, until a sudden gush of bubbles struck her face and her dark almond eyes opened. In that moment her viscous universe began to quiver and burst into millions of effervescent particles, transforming the enveloping limpid film into a foliaceous dress which blossomed like a gelatinous umbrella as she twirled her body. This opalescent being unfurled her slender torso, stretching her nascent limbs to grasp one of the encircling droplets. There are other living creatures inside those droplets. Some are still incubating in their tiny spheres. The scene is utterly majestic and spectral-coloured with a mixture of dusty rose powder, creamy sulphuric mists and bright cerulean beams of light. She is a microscopic cell, genetically engineered to revive emotions and restore vitality to dead matter. Today, having reached full maturation, she emerges from her cocoon.

She brings hope to many. The young chemist who invented her carefully separates her from her ecosystem, and gently transports her into a special syringe for delivering serum. He packs the serum in an airtight case and labels it ‘Aku {serum no.074}’ with his extraordinary left hand, which has only three fingers. His left hand has served him well. It has performed many tasks accurately in comparison to his normal right hand. The back of his neck bears a tattoo of three connecting dots. Twenty years ago, the mark was forcibly given to him by the local authorities to indicate his status as part of the mutated generation. It marked the beginning of a painful death. Individuals with an official brand lost their right to vote, and eventually were deprived of their rights as citizens. This policy had devastating consequences for the mutants. Many were removed from their jobs, separated from their loved ones, and eventually ostracised from society.

It all began with the abundance innate to this exotic archipelago. The profusion of its natural resources and the richness of its cultural heritage made it an appealing conquest to a greedy soul. The year was 2942, almost a millennium after its first independence from alien occupation. At the height of its technological advancement and unbridled economic growth, the country’s infrastructure of public services and national security remained relatively fragile. Life was effortless for a select segment of the community and was extremely unfair for the common people. This circumstance made the republic an easy target for ambitious politicians from neighbouring states. The nightmare began when a lethal virus infiltrated some popular commercial products, such as fertilisers, food colouring, and preservatives. The virus spread through the entire nation quickly. It contaminated the water we drank, the air we breathed and the soil where we grew our food. In less than twelve months, the virus triggered physical deformations in many citizens. It paralysed or diminished parts of their bodies, as it did to the young chemist. In this particular type of mutation, the virus left the healthy brain intact. By nature of survival instinct, the small population who experienced physical mutations offset their handicaps by excelling in other areas. Some even became human cyborgs. The horror of their physical deformations and subsequent cyborg manifestations were seen as a public shame or a lethal plague. Back then, the whole country was terrified by mutants, including the mutants themselves. The government issued arrest warrants for these mutants. It was then that the young chemist and other mutant survivors withdrew from society and declared themselves rebels.

No one realised that the genetic mutation was in fact happening to the entire population. The real menace was the second type of mutation: the mutation of synapse. The virus attacked the synapses inside the brain, altered perceptions, and stealthily transformed one’s character. It was an invisible threat. This mutation only affected the function of the neurotransmitter inside the human brain without deforming any biological structures. This disease went undetected by even the most cutting-edge medical testing. Yet, it only affected those who did not already suffer physical mutations. Gradually, the virus morphed rational thoughts into delusional notions. The infected individuals appeared normal, yet they could no longer engage in logical thinking, empathic understanding, or intuitive awareness.

The danger became eminent as these cerebral-inflicted mutants perceived themselves to be a superior race. They adopted a new social title “Amiśrita” (Sanskrit for ‘unadulterated’) to distinguish themselves from the physically disfigured mutants. The virus rapidly cultivated an egocentric and selfish generation of Amiśrita. The Amiśrita controlled the government and all other vital systems of the country. Government bills and policies were created based on personal, vested interests or short term gains. Crime and vandalism flourished in every major city. The hardships of the proletariat failed to be recognised. Social and environmental problems were ignored for many years.

After only a decade the corrupted nation became utterly depleted of its own natural resources. Concrete cities and flyovers were hastily built across the entire archipelago. A few maritime areas were converted into land for industrial development areas. Nearly all coral reefs were destroyed. Major straits were drained and oceanic territories were diminishing. Countless tropical species became extinct and with these extinctions came the emergence of new species which bore a more robust molecular structure. Many were brilliantly-coloured insects with enchanting forms. These new species of wildlife were not only more intelligent than mankind, they were also exceedingly brutal and savage. The worst were the giant insects of Periplaneta Interitus, a dark flying beetle the size of a bull. They were vicious predators and a great threat to humans.

As the republic crumbled it became a wasteland of disintegrating concrete formations with hardly any greenery and no viable water supply. Humans on the archipelago were wiped out. After a while, even the bloodthirsty insects disappeared. By 2964, there was no life above ground. The end had come.

When the young chemist with his fellow fugitives had escaped the mass mutant hunt twenty years prior, they fled far away from the cities and discovered an inhabitable isle. Located just off the shore of Tanö Niha, was a tiny spot and possibly the only haven where there were still live coral to be found. It was a breathtaking sight with great waves. A few of the escapees decided to fashion existing mangrove trees into long surfing planks, which they used to explore the unspoiled oceanic periphery of their new found territory.

Many of the refugees were scientists and scholars who dreamed of restoring peace. They believed that destiny had brought them to this new place such that they could rebuild their homes and construct a safe future. Finding a serum that could revive dead matter became their collective mission. They began gathering specimens of various endangered vegetation for their scientific experiments. With the help of native settlers, the rebels built a secret laboratory beneath the surface of the island. The underwater lab became their safe house where they studied and tested different formulas for curing their genetic mutations as well as for developing the ultimate serum. The place was hidden and out of reach from predators and viral contamination. For many years they were able to maintain a sustainable and protected equilibrium on the island. Through multitudes of scientific innovations, they even managed to cultivate fresh soil and vegetation inside the lab. The lab provided them with a peaceful sanctuary; a sharp contrast to the devastating catastrophe they absconded from.

It was on the isle where the young chemist fell in love with an anthropologist who went by the pseudonym, Ayati. She was a female cyborg who had lost hearing in her left ear due to the viral contamination. Her left ear was aided by a fiber optic device that was permanently linked to her nerves. Even with the strange contraption emerging from her earlobe like a cosmic plant, her disposition remained graceful. There was a certain mystery that attracted the young chemist to her. He asked her the reason why she had chosen a new name. She explained that it was the alias she had used to sign her published essays in an effort to hide from the government. The name was selected from an old manuscript her parents had given her when she was a child.

The precious work was an anthology of poetry and prose created by an ancient literary hero named Chairil Anwar. Ayati would read aloud passages from the manuscript’s worn pages, as the young chemist and his friends tirelessly worked in the lab. Her deep and sultry voice combined with the literary maestro’s words created a bio fantasy, which stimulated ideas and inspired the scientists in their seemingly impossible pursuit of discovering the right formula for the serum. The sound of Anwar’s verses evoked both rage and passion, rekindling in the rebels their hunger for reclaiming their humanity. Even in this new reality Anwar managed to valiantly break old traditions and cultivate new ideas in his listeners.

Chairil Anwar became the centre of the rebels’ late night discussions. Ayati drew a connection between the underlying message in Anwar’s poetry and the rebel’s approach to working with molecular science. His writings centred on using simple particles of language to articulate and conjure vivid emotion. Parallel to this notion was the situation the scientists found themselves in, where basic living cells extracted from remnants of their past were the only elements they had to create their complex serum. In Ayati’s view, these tiny biological units needed emotions to procreate and regenerate. The rebels could not reach this goal by relying solely on their conventional rationales. Faith and passion had to be inserted into their work. They had to fathom that the identity of their beings should not be dictated by their physical mutation or by the imperfections of their past. Only with an open heart and radical perspective could they uncover new possibilities in science. Often, the scientists faced a dead end in their search and became frustrated with their failures. In these moments of desperation and despair, Ayati related Anwar’s work with the first law of thermodynamics: 

In physics, the law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant—it is said to be conserved over time. Energy can be neither created nor be destroyed, but it transforms from one form to another.  

Like Anwar, Ayati believed that their world was never really gone nor destroyed. The energy of life was always conserved in the omnipotent system of our universe. Thus all actions were reversible.

Ayati had a secret. She knew that she would not live for a very long time. The mutation that started in her left ear had eventually affected her entire white blood cell system like a cancer, and was making her immune system weaker by the day. Despite her condition, her spirit stayed strong. Even as the last days of her life grew near, she vigorously documented her concepts concerning the new world. When she eventually revealed her secret to the young chemist, she insisted that her body be used in their scientific experiments. This was her last poem to him, written the night before she died:

I am awake in vain
Seeking asylum in your echoes
Your words get into the vein
Reviving what was once dead
Breathing a genetic mutation
Penetrating electrical chemo invasion
Who are you, who am I

Not them, nor anyone
Living cells will die in vain
Only when senses stop being understood

Ironically, the rebels discovered that Ayati’s mutated blood cells actually contained a peculiar DNA arrangement that was necessary for the serum. Using living cells extracted from her body, the young chemist finally succeeded in completing the formula for the serum. The serum was incubated for almost nine months until it reached a mature state.

Today is a big day for all of them. The young chemist takes the syringe in his hand as he walks along the dead reefs. With parts of her, there is hope in a new life. A new beginning for the new East Indies. Ayati never really left his heart. She will live another thousand years.


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 - by Chairil Anwar