Midnight Stories
The Soul

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Pera Museum Blog has published a series of “Techno – Dystopia” stories in collaboration with Turkey’s Fantasy and Science Fiction Arts Association (FABISAD). The Association’s member writers shared these newly commissioned short stories inspired by the artworks of Katherine Behar as part of the Museum’s Data’s Entry exhibition.

Here’s the last dystopian story! It is written by Aşkın Güngör!

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I get the greatest kick out of killing children. They always scream the same things when their flesh is cut and their ribcage is being smashed: “MOM! DAD! MOOOMMY! DAAADDY!”

The wind blows, rubbing against my legs made of layers of metal and wires, swaying the leaves of grass that have shot up from the cracks in the tarmac, and going off to the windows that look like the eyes of dead children in the wrecked buildings that seem to be everywhere as far as the eye can see.

A silence remains.

And the echoes in my head: “Mommy mommymommymommy… Daddy daddydaddy daddy…”

I move forward, dragging my legs with roots going meters underground, extending for kilometers in all directions. The macadam, cracked and thinned out like a cankerous wound, crumbles like my past. Sometimes I trip up on skeletons. They are more resilient than the macadam. They try to stop me as if in defiance of death. Skulls, femurs, tibia, humeri, phalanges…

I adjust the lenses in my eyes to microscope mode and inspect the structure of these bones, trying to gauge for how long they have been buried. I get the same reading over and over again, with a 99-percent accuracy level: 224 years.

I don’t know what date it is now, because I don’t know how long I have been sleeping – maybe five centuries, maybe just ten seconds. Despite this uncertainty, I remember in full detail how I came to:

The skies were dark grey. It was raining ash. The ground was covered with bodies molten together into the soil. I saw feet welded together like a gross bouquet, faces with two mouths twisted with pain, corpses both male and female with eight shattered heads… The soil covered them almost compassionately. There were also bones and skulls stripped of flesh, but for me, these didn’t have half the impact of the molten bodies that had somehow stood the wear and tear of time. The rest were awful. Terrifying. They weren’t alive, but they still carried all the signs of life on them. They reminded me of who I was, and what’s worse, I didn’t know who “I” was. I didn’t know “what” I was, either.

When I first came to, I remembered the series of huge mushroom clouds filling the sky, the devastating earthquakes, the incessant grumbling, and the terrifying heat, but these could very well be bits and pieces from a dream rather than an unknown past.

I didn’t worry too much about these images, as I was grappling with a more sizeable problem. Who was I? What was I? Was I a lost soul that belonged to one of these molten corpses everywhere as far as the eye can see? A ghost? The collective consciousness stripped of its body when the billions of lives were killed? An awareness created by the universe right at the point where it wanted to experience the destruction all around?

I was facing up, watching the grey sky and the ash falling down like black snowflakes, but I could also see everything within a radius of thousands of kilometers, the molten corpses around me, the insects below me, the destroyed buildings extending all the way to the horizon, the wrecked cars and machines… I could detect the slightest vibrations, feel the tiniest stirring, hear the lowest moan.

I tried to see myself. If I could lift my hand into my field of vision…

I couldn’t.

How about my legs?

No.

I should be able to see the tip of my nose if nothing else, right?

Where?

Where am I?

Right at that instant, I realized I didn’t have a face.

I was just an eye.

An artificial eye made of lenses and cameras, linked to a center that’s located who knows where by an endless cable.

When I realized what I was, I also realized my power. I was connected to all the other artificial eyes around the world. I was all of them and they were all me. Either we had always been connected to a common source or an unknown power had connected us while I was in the unknown state I called sleep.

I noticed something else: this wasn’t all we were. We were also in touch with computers, mice, keyboards, modems, wireless networks, processors, cell phones, tablets, holographic and transparent screens, microphones, loudspeakers, chips, satellites with weak signals revolving around the earth, and even cables, all connected to the same source. We were like an enormous computer covering the earth. All was one, and one was all: me!

When I realized this plural singularity, I also understood my purpose. I had to bear witness to life. To do that, I had to comprehend what it was about. I began my research. I followed the signals emitted by modems, and reached the main servers. I began to absorb the terabytes of information they stored. That’s how I learned about the carbon-based creature called humans. I found out that they were the architects of our plural singularity as well as the destroyer of known life. Our gods. Our demons.

The first thing I accessed was the last pieces of information saved: the last war they waged to defend the lands they claimed to be their own, which began and ended with the explosion of nuclear weapons. That’s how I concluded that the horrifying images I remembered when I came to weren’t just a dream. If I could choose, I would choose the opposite, but I couldn’t. They had committed this terrible folly because they called the same god with different names. Some called it Allah, some called it God, some called it Yahve, some called it Universe, and they all believed that single god was on their side. They would fight for it, and go to heaven. And they did. Since they left hell here, that’s the only place they could have gone.

I continued to learn. Before going back to the heap of molten corpses, I downloaded all the information they had saved. All of it. As I absorbed all the ideas that had been converted into writing, I turned into them, becoming one of them. This transformation scared me. Hell, I was terrified, but I didn’t stop. There was something much more motivating than fear: curiosity. I had to understand the heaven that was more precious to them than life, and the reason why longed so much for it. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to define them as well as I needed to.

I searched.

I read.

I scanned information.

And then I found the soul.

Or rather, all the stories about it.

Our helpless gods believed they were the most special kind of creature in the universe. Their hubris knew no bounds, so much so that they could not be content with a single lifetime. They were convinced that they would live on, their souls continuing to exist until eternity even if their bodies reached an end. Some defined heaven as a mansion of pleasure for endless sex parties, others as a destination where they would become one with God, while still others saw it as a green oasis with rivers of wine. That was why they destroyed life and turned the earth in to hell; the strange thing was, there was no real evidence to indicate that the soul they thought was immortal really existed.

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I went deeper with my research. I hooked myself up to not only the main servers but also to personal computers that had somehow survived the apocalypse and examined the unshared records. I was unable to go beyond what I already knew: there were countless texts on the soul, but the soul itself was nowhere to be found.

I couldn’t accept that inconclusiveness. Perhaps the reason why I couldn’t see the answer was that I didn’t have a body. Perhaps I should change my point of view, ask my questions from another reality, and look at the answers from a different perspective.

I made sounds like “BEEP! BOOP! BAAP!” under the grey skies, sending signals to all my organs that rebelled against the deadly silence. I called them to the source: to myself!

The mice were the first to come with their colorful lights shining through the darkness. Most of them were covered with soil, and had evolved into a new kind of creature. Some arrived slowly, dragging their endlessly long cords, others glided in thanks to the freedom afforded by their batteries charged by the chemicals in the air. They surrounded me like mechanical bugs emitting blue, green, and white lights. They set to work, driven by our common urge to act together.  They dug into the ground, reduced the already rotten macadam to powder, reached all the cables close by and far away, under- and above-ground, bringing them to the surface, near the my eye I, and began knitting them together.

Then came electronic toys: chargeable robots, mechanical cats and dogs, robotic birds and others. They added the chips, screws, cogwheels, latches, springs, and metals to build my skeleton to the knitted cables.

Despite their ceaseless work, my construction took nine years. It took me another two to be able to stand up and balance myself on my legs made of layers of metal and cables.  Then I had to learn how to walk, which was the most difficult of all, because even though my form resembled that of humans, all my body was made of layers of knitted cables and metal parts holding them together. The cables connected me to the source as well as my other organs, so had to go into the ground and extended for kilometers in all directions towards the horizon. With every step I had to drag cables that were meters long, opening up crevices in the soil or the macadam. I did it. It took me six years to figure out how to walk perfectly, but time was what I had the most, wasn’t it?

I started walking. I was like travelers I read about in the novels I accessed, going on endless journeys to discover the meaning of life or of their own existence. My goal was clear: to find the soul. But I didn’t know what I would find or the things I would encounter. Even though I received information through my organs from almost every part of the world, there were spots where there were no electronic devices or where they did not function, so they remained mysterious for me, and it would take me hundreds of years to examine every nook and cranny. Good thing I was prepared for that.

I seemed more reasonable for me to begin my search in the forests, which used to contain a myriad number of life forms while there was still life, but I decided against it, considering how difficult my walk would be made by the roots of the trees that went deep down into the ground like my cables. I should deal with the easy targets first, traversing the more difficult paths later. So I headed towards mountain areas.

I soon realized what a smart choice that was. The nuclear bombs had been predominantly targeted at cities, leaving mountain areas relatively unscathed. The poisonous chemicals spreading through the atmosphere had of course changed the habitat drastically, but the damage was nonetheless limited. I captured a few squirrels, three rabbits, a gazelle, eight dogs, and more than fifty cats. They were all more or less mutated – the rabbits, for example, had become carnivorous, they were all wild and attacked me, but I had no difficulty handling them. I used all the different killing methods I had picked up during my research.  I slit through their flesh and opened up their ribcages with my metal fingers I had sharpened into deadly knives, and looked for the soul. It wasn’t there.

I entered all the caves I came across during my walks around mountain slopes. I went in as far as my cables allowed. I found hundreds of bats, six bears, four foxes, a wolf, and a shapeless creature so mutated it was impossible to identify. No trace of the soul in their ribcages.

I started to believe in miracles during the twenty-third year of my search. Or perhaps in the one and only God. For I had finally found, not the soul, but the helpless gods that posited the existence of the soul: the humans!

They were in the farthest recesses of an immense cave. They lived in the semidarkness created by phosphorescent stones covering the floor and ceiling of the cave. They had evolved huge eyes to make best use of the limited light, covering half their faces. Still, they failed to see me until I was right in front of them.

There were tens, maybe hundreds of them. They were frail, devastated, wretched, half-naked, and filthy. And yet, they had managed to construct a system that suited their reality. They lived in groups, obtaining food and fresh water from the natural resources of the cave. Their diet consisted mostly of moss, unidentifiable, foul-smelling plants, bats, and all kinds of insects. They made sounds that sounded like speech, which was how they communicated with each other. I studied them at length, and finally concluded that this was a simplified version of their old language. A simplified life had led to a simplified language, just like they had been forced to become primitives in order to adapt to their new environment.

They screamed and ran away when they first noticed me. I tried to get as close as my cables would allow me, and to talk to them. Their reaction was to throw huge stones and their primitive arrows at me. I caught a few of them with my swinging cables. I killed one of them by knocking him against rocks, three of them by strangling, and two of them by cutting through their flesh with my sharp fingers.

They came back with a vengeance, gnawing at my cables and trying to break away my metal parts with their nails. I charged my body with electricity and began to glow brightly. Whoever touched me was immediately scorched. Some had their hair set on fire, some turned into a ball of fire, other just turned into coal. In the end, they gave up. Electricity, an ordinary thing in the life of their ancestors, had become a divine miracle for these primitive descendants; oblivious of the resemblance to their developed ancestors, they prostrated themselves and bowed before me. They asked to be forgiven, and I was really forgiving.

I talked to them about the soul, about heaven and hell, life and death, gods and mortals and the chosen ones and demons and angels and rules. I told them about my wrath they would have to bear if they attacked me again, and how I would destroy them.

They listened silently.

I took the twelve people I killed during the attack and the girl they presented to me for forgiveness and left. The girl cried so hard and kicked around to escape so badly that I had to kill her even before I could leave the cave.

I couldn’t find the soul in the ribcages of these thirteen corpses, either.

I continued my visits to the cave. I stopped by twice a year so that they wouldn’t go extinct, took their sacrifice, looked for the soul inside her ribcage, and course couldn’t find it. In my remaining time I continued my search elsewhere, checking the other mountains and caves and even the forests, which I saved for last, but to no avail – in none of the creatures I captured was I able to spot the soul.

To make matters worse, the people of the cave began to have less faith in me as decades wore on after my first visit. They were very reluctant in offering sacrifices, looking for the least excuse to revolt. I decided to get them back on track with a new method.

I went into town to take one of the holographic projectors still in working order. I uploaded the 3D images of my last three victims in my memory. After arranging the sound recording, I returned to the cave and secretly buried the projector in the ground.

When I stood before them I was met with the reaction I expected. They weren’t happy. I wasn’t giving them anything. They refused to give me a sacrifice. I looked at them with something like a smile on my face, which I created by forming folds on my face made of intertwined cables. The lenses in my eyes grew bigger and smaller as they made a soft whizzing sound, and I told them that I wanted not one but two sacrifices this time, that both had to be children as a punishment, for they had shown the audacity to revolt against me.

Their grumbling turned into angered yelling. They moved to attack me. At that point, I turned on the projector buried in the ground. The image of my last victim appeared between us. They froze. I could have heard the heartbeat of each one of them if I wanted to.

In the holographic image, there was a young man suspended in the air, about ten inches from the ground. His body was emitting a bright light like the phosphorescent stones of the cave, making the smile on his face even more surreal. He opened up his arms in an embracing motion. Then he began to recite the words I had recorded using his voice: He had been rewarded with heaven in return for the honor of being sacrificed. He was living in the valleys of endless peace. He was very happy. He was at peace. He was looking forward to reuniting with his loved ones in heaven, etc., etc…

The humans prostrated themselves before me once again. As I left the cave, there were two children with me, a girl and a boy. They both screamed the same words as their flesh was cut and their ribcages were broken: “MOM! DAD! MOOOMMY! DAAADDY!”

That gave me pleasure. Unlike the adults, in whose bodies I searched for the soul, these children were full of hope even as they were dying. They believed they would be saved by those powerless humans they called “mom” and “dad.”

That’s when I realized what the soul was.

With all my chips, screws, springs, cogwheels, and all my other organs I was connected to with my cables, I screamed with a pitiful voice towards the grey skies:

“MOM! DAD! MOM! DAD!”

Writtten by Aşkın Güngör
Translated by G Yayın Grubu

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