MINER – 9. YBKY Short Story Contest Second Place

This story came second in the competition organized by Yerli Bilimkurgu Yükseliyor in June 2020.

I was going to take my brother to the museum during winter-end break this year.

Ninety days ago I dreamed of this day. I told my brother to get ready for the day of March 21, when winter is over and spring is making its presence felt like a fragrant breeze. We met four days a year, on four holidays: March 21, June 21, September 23, and December 21. We spent half an hour negotiating where we were going on our next vacation. However, in our last meeting, he immediately accepted my offer about the museum. He showed his joy by jumping up, clapping his hands and kissing me on the cheek.

He was only nine years old. He was spending all day outside, running and playing with the other children. He loved his life so much and was proud that he didn’t have to go to school “like rich kids.” “That means you’ll start mining when you turn fifteen,” I couldn’t say. Every time I try, “He is just a kid,” said the voice inside me. “He’ll find out anyway.”

My twenty-four-hour vacation started with flashing yellow lights. I opened my eyes. I got up and hurried to the elevator so as not to waste a second. As I ascended to the ground, I lifted my head and prepared myself for the magnificent view. As I left the cabin with small steps, I was swallowed by the enthusiasm of the magnificence that hit my eyes. The sky was before me. The Milky Way resembled a cloud of blue light. I caught the constellations and bright stars, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Orion… Polaris, Betelgeuse, Sirius…

I gazed at the stars with indescribable pleasure until my knees could no longer support my body. When I realized that I was trembling with exhaustion, I sat down on the asphalt floor, cross-legged, and began to look around. “The usual earth.” I thought, neither a mound nor a pit; asphalt as far as the eye can see. It was deserted as it was midnight.

I checked how much perpenny I have on my wristwatch. Perpenny, performance-penny, was a value determined by our performance on the job. Since I am a young and efficient employee, I could spend my money on holidays as much as we wanted with my brother. The wages of the workers who were getting old and tired were so low that they could not even buy water. Fortunately, we were insured to meet our basic needs during the working days.

I called a taxi. I watched the pumpkin-like vehicle glide through the air, one finger above the ground. I jumped in and described the coordinates: “I want to go to the point 45.235°N – 105,712°E. Thanks.”

This was where my brother was staying. I had heard that before Regeneration it was a beach, even called the Gobi Desert, but now it was paved. Like all continents in the world.

Throughout the journey, I put my hand on my cheek and looked outside. Everywhere was so the same that it was as if I was watching a fixed view. Bored, I turned around, wiggled my fingers, and tried to imagine what the planet used to be like.

It was when my brother could just walk. I used to play with it every day, buy food and diapers from mobile kiosks and take care of him, and count how many days were left until June 1, my mother’s annual vacation. The world was ours when my mother showed up. We didn’t use to shut up for a minute. We used to try to get her attention ceaselessly. When we were sleepy, we used to lie on her knees and listen to her voice.

My mother used to talk about her childhood. Lush green trees, busy cities… How forests were gradually being destroyed by the effect of changing climate and chemicals in the air… Finally, how the oxygen dropped below the critical level… How states in the world had come together to make decisions under the name of Regeneration… How they blew mountains up with dynamite, and filled pits… How they made it compulsory for everyone to work except the children living in the tent…

When we arrived at the destination, I startled as if waking up from sleep. I went down, stepped on the flat ground, and looked around. My heart raced when I heard footsteps. I opened my arms and hugged my brother who was running towards me like a bird. This moment gave meaning to my life. For this moment, I would overcome all difficulties and work for a lifetime without complaining.

I didn’t let the taxi go, because its job wasn’t finished yet. It was going to take us to the museum. The museum -full name Amazon Forest Museum- was the only preserved woodland on the continents. The magnetic field was used until the atmosphere was free of poisonous gases, and then a wall was built for ticket control.

The sun was just rising when we entered. The chirping of the birds filled us with happiness like spring flowers. We sat on the ground and listened to nature. After wandering around chatting, we suddenly started running and playing chase. When we got tired, we found a giant tree hollow and slept in it. I wanted to stop the time, I was going to remember its taste for a long time. It was worth every perpenny I had saved for two years.

We left as the sun was setting. While I was reading the coordinates in the taxi, my brother lay on my shoulder sadly. As a consolation, I started talking about things we could do during the end of the spring break. “We can take a kite. We can eat ice cream, make funny faces…”

My brother put his finger to my lips to silence me.

“Let’s just look at the stars and chat,” he said. “You’re good enough for me.”

I was doing the same job as most of the world’s population. My conditions were better than most people. I had heard that there are workers who take a vacation every five years or even ten years. Although we couldn’t talk about these issues much because our holiday days did not match with my workmates, and even my supervisor said, “You are lucky, the system assigned you equinoxes and solstices as holidays.” I hadn’t heard a word other than that, but I knew more or less how it worked.

Businesses were underground. The continents were covered with asphalt. Islands… The cute houses my mother told me were on the islands. There were lush trees, soft grass that I could never step on, colorful flowers that I could not smell. One millionth of the population, the rich, who had the right to taste life every day of the year, were there. They were living thanks to our productions.

I sighed when the taxi announced that we had arrived in my area. I turned to my brother, hugged him and stroked his hair, imagining how much he might have grown three months later. When my wristwatch increased its warnings, I unintentionally said goodbye and got out of the vehicle and took the elevator that would take me to the facility, which was meters below the ground.

The work environment was the same as always. It was low ceilings, wide-ranging, dark and warm. There was only the hum of the machines and the green warning lights that all was well. I took a glance at the rows of seats. They were uniform and large, soft as a pouf. All but one were filled with blindfolded people with wires tied around their bodies like spider webs. The empty seat in front of me belonged to me.

I was going to sit in this chair for three months to qualify for a one-day vacation. All my neurons would connect to the system and start pulling raw data for processing from the public database. During this time I would not be conscious, so I would not remember anything, and as soon as I opened my eyes, I would wake up on the next holiday day.

I was a data miner; my computer was my brain. In the last seconds of my vacation, I dreamed of June.

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