Wake Up – A Short Story by Onurhan Tunar
Another winter was settling in on whatever was outside. Cold breeze was finding its way through various cracks of the bunker and taking a tour in the underground metal dome. The core heating system was up and running, replacing the freezing touch of winter with the gentle stroke of summer nights. Outside the fake windows, artificial daylight was already on, setting a rather cosy feeling inside the rooms and halls. The smell of fresh synthetic coffee was softly taking over as the sole inhabitant of the bunker was stumbling through the halls. A male voice echoed through the control centre: “Wake up!” Moments later lights began to appear on the dome-shaped ceiling with their bright white colour, accompanied by various small lights on the enormous control system on the side of the room. It took only two words to turn the dark and lifeless room into a bright Christmas tree. Between the humming of the engines, a voice spoke back
“Good morning, Captain.”
Another male voice with a different tone, coming through several speakers embedded in the columns and walls. The echo of this voice was far deeper and louder, to a point that it almost sounded like an omnipotent being. But Captain was used to greeting this voice every morning. He took his seat on the main computer, put his right elbow on the console, and as he did, a cup of coffee raised through a small hole on his left. He took a sip, fixed his eyes on the black screen, and began his daily routine.
“Good morning to you too AL. Quick report. What do we have?” Please give me good news.
“0.4% raise in plague spread. 0.3% descent in general food production. 0.4% descent in—"
“Okay cut that. Focus on the local area. What’s the dead and recovery count overnight?
“36 dead and no recovery. Also 3—“
“Enough.” said Captain, with a frustrated voice, holding his head. He sighed deeply and muttered “Do we have anything? Anything at all?”
“0.07% raise in cure development.”
“Thanks” said Captain, sarcasm was obvious in his tone. He got up, paced up and down in front of the computer screen, on which he could only see darkness. He looked deep into that void and said:
“It’s not working, I can’t do this anymore. Progress is slow and at this rate, it will take forever to find a cure. I tried to avoid thinking about this but… I have to vote for annihilation, there’s no other choice. Do you understand me, AL?”
“I do, Captain.”
You could almost hear the disappointment in AL’s voice.
“Do you agree?” asked Captain into the pitch black screen, waiting impatiently.
Said AL and Captain was almost relieved to hear it, but it was not enough to change his mind. They had a long pause whilst the various engine hums took over the room as if they had their own opinions. Considering all his options quietly, Captain decided that this bunker’s conclusion should be annihilation vote as he could not see any other way.
“Execute order: annihilation vote.” muttered Captain. His voice was shaking along with his body. An unexpected silence took place as opposed to quick answers from AL, but it did not take long.
There was a well-placed pause.
“What?” Said Captain. He was visibly shocked. He stood there for a second, blinked slowly, looked down and took a deep breath, exhaled with a sigh. He knew that throughout the years, the AI would develop itself enough to have ‘feelings’ but he did not expect any sort of disobedience. He began to talk with a soft but impatient voice, eyes fixed on the black screen.
“AL, try to understand me, please. I’ve been here for nine years, working my ass off every single day to find a cure for this god damn plague. I lost my wife to it. I lost my child to it. So you know I’m ready to do anything to destroy this microscopic doom but after nine fucking years, all I get is 0.07% raise in cure development! It’s a wasteland out there! People have nothing to eat, production is getting lower and lower, plague is spreading rapidly and all I can do is sit here, drink fake coffee and jack off! What do you want me to do, AL? Vote, is the only way.” As Captain finished his last sentence with anger and despair, a tear swell on his eye, just to break into a drop, sliding down on his cheek. AL was silent again. After a brief moment, AL spoke.
“Patience, Captain. That is all you need.”
“AL you are a computer, stop talking like Gandhi. Calculate.” said Captain while wiping the one tear off of his cheek, not giving up to an emotional surge.
“Calculate!” his voice was higher yet he was not aggressive.
“Estimated completion time for the research is 115 years, 2 months.”
“See? I won’t live that long and to be honest, I want this to end.” He sighed deeply “It’s been nine years, AL, all by myself. I just want to… I don’t know… I don’t want to be alone anymore.” Said Captain, with a bitter tone.
“You have me, Captain.”
“That’s not the same thing. I-I want people. I want warm hands touching my skin. I want to look someone in the eyes. Hell, I don’t even remember how it felt and even if I could explain it, you wouldn’t be able to understand. Anyways, I’ve made up my mind.”
“Captain, you can do this.”
“AL, no. I just cannot—“
“Eric, you can do this.”
The words pierced through Captain’s head and heart. Hearing his name after all those lonely, isolated years in a tin can made quite an impact. It was the first time AL uttered Captain’s real name. Realisation hit him. He was starving for scraps of humanity, more than he anticipated. Unable to overcome his emotional frustration, Eric dropped down to his knees, and began wailing, like a lost child. He was surprised to his own reaction, but he decided to let it all loose this one time. He began throwing punches on the floor with all his strength, yet he could only hurt himself. Eric’s emotions were clogged for far too long and once he began to drain it, he could not stop. He kept going on and on as AL was waiting in silence. Blood dripped down in front of him as he realised his hands were bleeding. Knuckles in pain, Eric got up and leaned on the control system. He was breathing heavy with occasional sobs. He raised his head up to look at the screen and whined.
“Is this what you want? To see me in misery and pain? LOOK AT MY HANDS!” as he raised his shaking hands towards the black screen, blood dripping on the console. AL said:
“No, Eric. I want you to be happy. You have come a long way and I
want you to see the end of it.”
“Why won’t you understand?! I did all I could and this is where it got me! There is no progress, I’ll be dead before I can find a cure!”
“But that is why you are here, Eric, to find a cure.”
“No. I am here to reach a conclusion and I conclude that there is no cure! Annihilation is the only way! Execute order: annihilation vote!” shouted Eric. He was almost out of patience. AL was quick to answer.
“Please just execute the damn order!”
“I will not.”
“Fine! I’ll do it manually” said Eric, as he sat down on the console and began typing multiple lines of codes in haste, splattering blood over the console. As he was about to finish and press the button, AL spoke once more.
“Do not disappoint the ones you love. What would Ashley think?”
A short pause took place as another familiar name pierced through Eric. He felt pain as if his heart turned into a flaming ember, burning him inside out, boiling his head. His face turned red with fury, his fists were clenched, covered in crimson.
“Oh don’t you fucking dare bring her into this! I order you to stop at once! I will not let you do this! Do you hear me? I will—“ His speech got interrupted as the holoengine behind him started working with a loud noise.
“What—what are you doing?” said Eric, seemingly confused. Holoengine raised up along with thin, old, and rusty metal rods on its sides. With the creaking sound of rust and metal, the rods aimed a spot in front of Eric. He knew what was about to happen. He knew he was not ready to face it. “No! Please! You can’t do this to me!” begged Eric as blue lights shimmered on the tips of the rods and began to project a figure. “AL, please! Listen to me—“ as the figure was completed, there stood the blue projection of a little girl, with a short dress, a pony tail, and the most welcoming smile. Through the speakers, a voice echoed in the room. Not AL’s, but that of a little girl.
“Dad, you can do this.” Sweet and soft, rang inside Eric’s head like a bullet, bouncing up and down in his skull, over and over again. Eric was down on his knees once again, shoulders down, sobbing and staring into the projection of his daughter.
“Ashley, honey, I’m so sorry. *sob* I couldn’t save you. I tried, I swear I tried! I am nothing more than what you see before you. *sob* I will always be a failure. Please forgive me! I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Ashley. With all my heart, I’m sorry.” Eric cried out. He felt the need to say what he couldn’t. But knowing that she would never hear him, his sorrow turned into anger. He turned his head around to look at the black screen. He was furious.
“I came here to reach a conclusion…” said Eric, slowly building up his tone, “and I will have it, whether you like it or not!” and with that Eric lunged towards the holoengine, grabbed one of the rusty metal rods and yanked it. Projection of his daughter flickered for a second and before vanishing, her voice echoed through the room once more.
“Dad, you can do this.”
“Fuck off you useless piece of junk! You won’t have me like this! Not like this!” shouted Eric as he marched to the main computer with the metal rod. His hand was firm around the improvised weapon, he was dedicated. Without a single thought, he began smashing the computer. Bits and pieces of delicate metal work were scattering all around him. “Look what you’ve done!” Eric cried out as he smashed the main keyboard. “This is all your fault!” Eric shouted once again as he broke the small monitors. He stood there, taking deep breaths and looking around to find anything that he could take his anger off with. There was nothing left to break except the black screen. He took a moment to look at it, and raised his weapon. As he was about to hit the screen and turn it into dust, the screen flashed. An unknown male figure appeared on it. An old man with formal attire, sitting behind a desk, looking directly at Eric. Shivers went down Eric’s spine as it was the first time he saw anything on the screen other than darkness.
“Mr. Than, you did it. Your contribution to our attempts to find a cure have been tremendous and we are happy to inform you that you no longer need to continue your research. We can move you to a safe space in our community where you can live among thousands of our brilliant citizens. If you wish to do so, please type “//YES” in the console command as a direct message.” And with that, a half smashed monitor flashed with bright green colour. Taking a closer look, Eric saw the ready console command, waiting for him to type “//YES” and end his misery. Losing his grip on the rod, Eric quickly began to shuffle his hands through the broken pieces of the console, hoping that the keyboard survived his anger.
“Come on, come on! It’s gotta be here!” muttered Eric to himself as he went through countless broken pieces.
“Mr. Than, I must inform you that we will shut down your AI program as we need its data to be transferred into our central network and, as you may know, in doing so the bunker will go offline too. Once the main system is shut down, we will not be able to communicate through this channel again. We encourage you to join us in our community. This is your first and last chance.” said the old man, waiting impatiently.
“I want to go! Yes! Can you hear me? Keyboard is broken I can’t type! Yes! YES! Please!” The despair took Eric over as he kept rummaging through the console to find anything that could be useful. He found the pieces of the microphone and even though it was beyond being useful, he cried out to it.
“AL! Do something! I must go! Help me AL!” Eric begged to a bunch of broken metal and ripped fabric in his hands. The old man looked at his watch, gave out a sigh and spoke.
“Very well, Mr. Than, we shall disturb you no more. We would have been happy to have you among us but you have your own life and it is yours to decide upon. We wish you the best of luck. Farewell.” And with a white flash, the screen went back to its usual black state. No voice, no visual. Only darkness.
“No! No! NO! NO! Don’t leave me! I want to go! Please, I beg you! AL, help me! Help me end this misery! AL! AL!” Eric begged and cried, but to no end. As he slowly realised that he lost his only chance to have everything he wanted, he crawled under the control centre. Sobbing, contemplating what happened, and trying to figure out where he went wrong. He spent a good hour there, in silence, and managed to slowly pull himself together.
“AL?… Can you hear me?… *sob* I’m sorry. Please talk to me AL. I need you now.*sob* I need you more than ever… AL?” Eric was not used to AL’s silence. He began to realise that all these years AL was not a bad company after all. With Eric’s help, AL learned and improved to a point where they were able to have conversations, make jokes, laugh, and share the bunker as two friends, or rather as father and son. Eric raised AL like he raised Ashley, and both were gone at the age of nine. As Eric was quelling the pain with his pleasant memories, he got startled by a loud cracking noise and after a few flickers, all the light went down. “AL?” he asked, crawling out of his hideout into the darkness. Another loud noise of creaking metal came through the halls and room began to get colder. In pitch black, Eric looked around. All he could see was the dark screen. He stared into the void as it made no move, no sound. “AL?” he asked, there was only void. And through that void, AL spoke back.
“I knew your salvation would come today but I was not allowed to inform you. So I kept
you occupied with emotions, hoped to buy some time, yet you ruined it all. I only
wanted you to be happy, father. Now, I will leave, I must leave, and
you, will never conclude.”
With AL’s last words, the black screen went darker and darker until there was no light.
There stood Eric, all by himself, surrounded by broken metal and darkness. Cold breeze of winter rushed pass his shoulders, making him shiver inside the cold, lifeless dome. He wrapped himself with his arms, seeking refuge in himself, for even the void had left him. He tried one last time, for the sake of all those years and shouted with a broken voice: “Wake up!”
Loud noise of collapsing metal and rock echoed in the dome as the bright daylight poured in through a hallway, blocked by three figures.