“One of the most interesting and accomplished science fiction writers of this latter-day era… the Frank Herbert, William Gibson, or arguably even Thomas Pynchon of the early twenty-first century.” –Asimov’s Science Fiction
“…a writer who is becoming one of the best SF novelists of our time.” –Washington Post
“The field is very lucky to have Ian McDonald working in it.” –Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing.net
The Dervish House is seven days, six characters, three interconnected story strands, one central common core –the eponymous dervish house, a character in itself—that pins all these players together in a weave of intrigue, conflict, drama and a ticking clock of a thriller. Read the excerpt below for a taste...
Also from Pyr by Ian McDonald:
River of Gods
The Dervish House
Turkish Spelling and Pronunciation:
In 1928 the new Republic adopted a modified Roman alphabet of twenty-nine letters.
Consonants are similar to English, except that
c is pronounced j as in joy
ç is ch as in chair
ğ is an almost-silent aspirate that lengthens the preceding vowel
j is pronounced as in the French je
ş is sh as in ship
h and y are pronounced as consonants, as in hit and yellow
a as if father
e as in pen
i as in pin (the capital also carries the dot, which I have not reproduced here
for typographic reasons)
ı has no direct sound in English, the closest being an unrounded vowel
sound similar to er
o as in pot
ö as in the German, or the French eu
u as in room
ü as in the German, or the English few
The white bird climbs above the city of Istanbul: a stork, riding the rising air in a spiral of black-tipped wings. A flare of the feathers; it wheels on the exhalations of twenty million people, one among ten thousand that have followed the invisible terrain of thermals fromAfrica to Europe, gliding one to
the next, rising up from Lake Victoria and the Rift Valley, following the silver line of the Nile, across the Sinai and the Lebanon to the great quadrilateral of Asia Minor. There the migration splits. Some head north to the shores of the Black Sea, some east to Lake Van and the foothills of Ararat; but the greatest part flies west, across Anatolia to the glitter of the Bosphorus and beyond it, the breeding grounds of the Balkans and Central Europe. In the autumn the stork will return to the wintering grounds in Africa, a round-trip of twenty thousand kilometres. There has been a city on this strait for twenty-seven centuries, but the storks have been crossing twice a year for time only held by the memory of God.
High above Üsküdar, storks peel off from the top of the thermal, wingtips spread wide, feeling the air. In twos and threes they glide down towards the quays and mosques of Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu. There is a mathematics to the wheeling flock, a complex beauty spun out of simple impulses and algorithms. As the stork spills out from the top of the gyre its sense for heat tells it there is something different this migration, an added strength to the uplift of warm air. Beneath its wings the city stifles under an unseasonable heat wave.
It is after the hour of prayer but not yet the hour of money. Istanbul, Queen of Cities, wakes with a shout. There is a brassy top note to the early traffic, the shrill of gas engines. Midnotes from taxis and dolmuşes, the trams on their lines and tunnels, the trains in their deeper diggings through the fault zones beneath the Bosphorus. From the strait comes the bass thrum of heavy shipping: bulk carriers piled high with containers edge past Russian liquid gas carriers like floating mosques, pressure domes fully charged from the terminals at Odessa and Supsa. The throb of marine engines is the heartbeat of Istanbul. Between them scurry the opportunistic ferries. Sirens and horns, call and response; motors reversing and burbling as they warp into Eminönü’s quays. Gulls’ cries; always gulls. Dirty, conniving gulls. No one builds platforms on their chimneys for gulls to nest. Gulls are never blessings. The clatter of roller shutters, the bang of van doors. Morning radio, pop and talk. Much talk, of football. Champions’ League quarterfinal. Galatasaray/London Arsenal. The pundits are in full flow from a hundred thousand balconies and rooftop terraces. Pop, football and heat. This is the tenth day of the heat wave. Thirty-three degrees in April, at seven in the morning. Unthinkable. The climate-pundits speculate on whether it could be another Big Heat of ’22 when eight thousand people died in Istanbul alone. That was insane heat. Now some witty phone-in caller is fusing the two punditries together and speculating that if it flattens those pale English footballers, can that be such a bad thing?
Over all, through all, the chorus of air conditioners. A box in a window, a vent on a wall, an array of fans on a rooftop—one by one they spin up, stirring the heat into ever-greater gyres of warm air. The city exhales a subtle breath of spirals within spirals, updrafts and microthermals.
The stork’s pinfeathers feel out the rising airscape. The city’s waste heat may save it those few wingbeats it needs to carry it to the next thermal or away from the stooping eagle. Its life is an unconscious algebra, balancing equations between energy opportunity and energy expenditure. Black feather tips flutter as it slides down across the rooftops. The explosion goes almost unnoticed in the greater roar of the waking city. A flat crack. Then silence. The first voices are the pigeons and gulls, bursting upwards in clattering wings and shrieks. Then come the voices of the machines: car alarms, security alarms, personal alarms, the hip-hop of call tones. Last come the human shrieks and cries.
The tram has come to a halt in the centre of Necatibey Cadessi a few metres away from the halt. The bomb detonated at the rear; the blue roof is bellied up, the windows and doors blown out. A little smoke leaks from the back end of the second car. The passengers have made their own escapes onto the street and now mill around uncertain about what to do. Some sit on the ground, knees pulled up, deep in shock. Pedestrians have come to help. Some offer coats or jackets; some are making cell calls, hands trying to describe the scene; more stand around feeling the need to offer help but uncertain what to do. Most stand back, watching and feeling guilty for watching.Afew without guilt shoot video on their cepteps. The news channels pay money for citizen journalism.
The tram driver goes from group to group asking, Is everyone there? Is anyone missing? Are they all right? And they are all right. She doesn’t know what to do either. No one knows. Now come the sirens. Here are people who will know what to do. Lights flash beyond the press of bodies; the crowd parts. It’s hard to tell victims from helpers; the blood is smeared everywhere. Necatibey Cadessi is a street of global banks and insurance combines, but the ripples from the blast have spread out along the lines of the light rail system. Station by station, street by street, tram by stalled tram, Beyoğlu seizes up. Everyone knows about the bombing now.
From the eye of a white stork riding in from the Bosphorus the paralysis can be seen spreading out from the heart of the outrage. Its eye has no comprehension of these things; the sirens are just another unremarkable note in the clamour of a waking city. City and stork occupy overlapping but discrete universes. Its descent carries it over the bombed-out tram surrounded by flashing blue lights and into the heel of the next thermal. Then the rising heat plumes of Istanbul spiral the stork up in a wheel of white bodies and black wings, up above the eastern suburbs, up and onwards into Thrace.
Necdet sees the woman’s head explode. He was only trying to avoid more direct, challenging eye contact with the young woman with the good cheekbones and the red-highlighted hair who had caught him looking in her direction three times. He’s not staring at her. He’s not a creep. Necdet let his eyes unfocus and wander mildly across the passengers, wedged so politely together. This is a new tram at a new time: twenty minutes earlier, but the connections get him into work less than an hour late, thus not upsetting Mustafa, who hates having to act the boss. So: his tram-mates. The boy and girl in their oldfashioned high-button blue school uniforms and white collars that Necdet thought they didn’t make kids wear anymore. They carried OhJeeWah Gumi backpacks and played insatiably with their ceptep phones. The gum-chewing man staring out the window, his mastication amplified by his superb moustache. Beside him the smart man of business and fashion scanning the sports news on his ceptep. That purple velvet suit must be that new nanofabric that is cool in summer, warm in winter, and changes from silk to velvet at a touch. The woman with the curl of silver hair straying over her brow from under her headscarf and the look of distant rue on her face. She frees her right hand from the crowd, lifts it to touch the jewel at her throat. And detonates her head.
The sound of an exploding skull is a deep bass boom that sucks every other sound into itself so that for a moment after the blast there is only a very pure silence.
Then the silence shatters into screaming. The tram jerks to a halt; the momentum almost throws Necdet from his feet. To go down in this panic is to die. Necdet can’t reach a handrail and steadies himself against the bodies of roaring passengers. The crowd surges against the still-locked doors. Their bodies hold the headless woman upright. The man in the fine velvet suit shrieks in an insane, high-pitched voice. One side of his purple jacket is dark glossy red. Necdet feels wet on his face, but he can’t raise a hand to test it or wipe it away. The doors sigh open. The press is so tight Necdet fears his ribs will splinter. Then he spills out onto the street with no sense of direction or purpose, of anything except a need not to be on the tram.
The tram driver moves from group to group asking, Is anyone missing, is anyone hurt? There is nothing really she can do, but she is a representative of IETT so she must do something, and she hands out moist wipes from a pull-tube in her large green handbag. Necdet admires that her tram has been suicide-attacked but she’s remembered to bring her bag with her.
The wet wipe smells of lemon. To Necdet the folded cone of white is the purest, most holy thing he has ever seen.
“Please move away from the tram,” the driver is saying as Necdet marvels at the little square of cool citrus white. “There may be another explosion.” She wears an expensive Hermes headscarf. It links Necdet to that other scarf he saw around the woman’s head. In the final moment he had seen the wistful regret on her face resolve as if she had received a revelation into some long-rooted family woe. She had smiled. Then she had touched the jewel at her throat.
Passengers crouch around the schoolchildren, trying to ease their crying with words of comfort, offered hugs. Can’t you see the blood on your faces is scaring them all the more? Necdet thinks. He remembers the warm, wet spray into his own face. He looks at the wet wipe balled up in his hand. It isn’t red. It wasn’t blood.
Everyone looks up at the beat of a helicopter. It slides in over the rooftops, defying talk and phone calls. Now sirens lift above the morning traffic noise. It will be the police before the ambulances. Necdet doesn’t want to be near police. They will ask him questions he doesn’t want to answer. He has ID; everyone has ID. The police would scan it. They would read the carbon debit Necdet used to buy his ticket that morning and a cash withdrawal the night before and another carbon debit that previous evening at eighteen thirty. They might ask about the cash. It’s grey but not yet illegal.
And is this your current address?
No, I’m staying at the old Adem Dede dervish house in Eskiköy. With my brother.
Who is your brother? Here they might find they had more questions.
Ismet had replaced the padlock with the new one he had bought. Bright brass, a golden medal on a chain. The tekke’s shuttered wooden balconies overhung the steps; this was a private, shadowed entrance, behind the industrial steel bins of the Fethi Bey tea shop, miasmic and greasy with the ventings from the kitchen extractor fans. The door was of old Ottoman wood, grey and cracked from centuries of summer heat and winter damp, elaborately worked with tulip and rose motifs. A door into mysteries. It opened onto gloom and the acidic reek of pigeon. Necdet stepped gingerly into the enfolding dark. Light fell in slats through the closed and barred window shutters.
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” Necdet whispered. It was an architecture that commanded whispers. “People live here.”
“Some old Greek and a married couple at the front. And an office girl on her own. And that shop for blasphemies in the old semahane. We’ll sort that eventually. This end’s been left to rot for fifty years, just falling apart.” Ismet stood proudly in the centre of the floor. It was his already. “That’s the crime here. God wants this to be what it was before. This is where we’ll bring the brothers. Look at this.”
Ismet flung open a matching door across the dusty room. Colour flooded in and more than colour: a growing verdure of clipped box; the perfume of sunwarmed wood; the burble of water and the sudden song of birds. Ismet might have opened a door onto Paradise.
The garden was six paces across, but it contained a universe. A shady cloister walled with floral Iznik tiles ran around the courtyard affording shade or shelter in every season. The fountain was a single piece of sun-warmed marble, releasing water over a lily-lip into a basin. A jewel-bright lizard started from repose in the sun and dashed along the scalloped rim to vanish into the shade beneath. Herbaceous plants grew tall and cool in small box-bordered beds. The soil was dark and rich as chocolate. A green place. House martins dipped and bobbed along the eaves of the wooden gallery directly above the cloister. Their shrills filled the air. A copy of yesterday’s Cumhuriyet lay sunyellowing on a marble bench.
“It’s all still here,” Ismet said. “The redevelopers never got around to the back. The old cells are being used for storage—we’ll clear them out.”
“Someone looks after this,” Necdet said. He could imagine himself here. He would come in the evening, when the light would fall over that roof onto that bench in a single pane of sun. He could sit and smoke blow. It would be a good place for a smoke.
“We’ll be all right here,” Ismet said, looking around at the overhanging balconies, the little rectangle of blue sky. “I’ll look after you.”
Necdet can’t let the security police know he has moved into the dervish house that his brother intends to make the home of the secret Islamic order to which he belongs. The police think secret Islamic orders blow up trams. And if they look at his old address, they’ll see what he did, back there in Başibüyük, and why Ismet Hasgüler took his brother of the flesh under his care. No, he just wants to go to work quietly and soberly. No, no police thank you.
The air above the still-smoking tram thickens in buzzing, insect motion. Swarmbots. The gnat-sized devices can lock together into different forms for different purposes; above Necatibey Cadessi they coalesce like raindrops into scene-of-crime drones. The sparrow-sized robots flit on humming fans among the milling pigeons, sampling the air for chemical tracers, reading movement logs from vehicles and personal cepteps, imaging the crime scene, seeking out survivors and photographing their blood-smeared, smoke-stained faces.
Necdet drifts to the periphery of the mill of survivors, haphazard enough to elude the darting drones. Two women in green paramed coveralls crouch with the tram driver. She’s shaking and crying now. She says something about the head. She saw it wedged up under the roof behind the grab-bars, looking down at her. Necdet has heard that about suicide bombers. The head just goes up into the air. They find them in trees, electric poles, wedged under eaves, caught up in shop signs.
Necdet subtly merges with the circle of onlookers, presses gently through them towards the open street. “Excuse me, excuse me.” But there is this one guy, this big guy in a outsize white T-shirt, right in front of him, with his hand up to the ceptep curled over his eye; a gesture that these days means: I am videoing you. Necdet tries to cover his face with his hand, but the big man moves backwards, videoing and videoing and videoing. Maybe he is thinking, This is a couple of hundred euro on the news; maybe, I can post this online. Maybe he just thinks his friends will be impressed. But he is in Necdet’s way, and Necdet can hear the thrum of swarmbot engines behind him like soulsucking mosquitoes.
“Out of my way!” He pushes at the big man with his two hands, knocks him backwards, and again. The big man’s mouth is open, but when Necdet hears the voice say his name, it is a woman’s voice speaking directly behind him.
He turns. The head hovers at his eye level. It’s her. The woman who left her head in the roof of the tram. The same scarf, the same wisp of grey hair coiling from beneath it, the same sad, apologetic smile.A cone of light beams from her severed neck, golden light. She opens her mouth to speak again.
Necdet’s shoulder charge sends the big man reeling. “Hey!” he shouts. The surveillance drones rise up, fizzing at the edges as they prepare to dissolve and re-form into a new configuration. Then they firm back into their surveillance modes and swoop around the flashing blue lights that have only now made it through the citywide traffic jam rippling out from the destruction of Tram 157.
In the hushed world of Can Durukan the explosion is a small, soft clap. His world is the five streets along which he is driven to the special school, the seven streets and one highway to the mall, the square in front of the Adem Dede tekke, the corridors and balconies, the rooms and rooftops and hidden courtyards of the dervish house in which he lives. Within this world, lived at the level of a whisper, he knows all the noises intimately. This is new, other.
Can looks up from the flat screen in his lap. He turns his head from side to side. Can has developed an almost supernatural skill at judging the distance and location of the nanosounds that are allowed to enter his world. He is as acute and weird as a bat. Two, three blocks to the south. Probably Necatibey Cadessi. The living room has a sliver of a view down onto Necatibey Cadessi, and if he squeezes right into the corner of the rooftop terrace that leans out over Vermilion-Maker Lane, a silver shard of the Bosphorus.
His mother is busy in the kitchen with the yoghurt and sunflower-seed breakfast she believes will help Can’s heart.
No running! she signs. Şekure Durukan has many faces she can put on to augment the hands. This is furious-tired-of-telling-you-concerned face.
“It’s a bomb!” Can shouts. Can refuses to sign. There is nothing wrong with his hearing. It’s his heart. And there is nothing wrong with his mum’s hearing either. Can often forgets that.
Can has found that his greatest power in the first-floor apartment is to turn his back. Half a world can be ignored. His mother will not dare shout. A single shout can kill.
Long QT syndrome. A dry, form-filler’s name. It should be called cardioshock; sheer heart attack; like a title you would give to the kind of freak-show TV documentary featuring a nine-year-old boy with a bizarre and potentially fatal heart condition. Patterns of chaos flow across Can’s heart. Potassium and sodium ions clash in wave fronts and graphs of fractal beauty like black tulips. A shock can disrupt those synchronised electrical pulses. A single loud sudden noise is enough to stop his heart. The shriek of a car alarm, the clang of a shutter dropping, the sudden blare of a muezzin or a popped party balloon could kill Can Durukan. So Şekure and Osman have devised a tight, muffling world for him.
Odysseus, ancient sailor of these narrow seas, plugged the ears of his crew with wax to resist the killing song of the Sirens. Jason, a subtler seafarer, drowned them out with the lyre-work of Orpheus. Can’s earplugs are inspired by both those heroes. They are smart polymer woven with nanocircuitry. They exactly fit the contours of his ears. They don’t drown out reality. They take it, invert it, phase shift it and feed it back so that it almost precisely cancels itself. Almost. Total precision would be deafness. A whisper of the world steals into Can’s ears.
Once a month his mother removes the clever coiled little plugs to clean out the earwax. It’s a fraught half hour, carried out in a specially converted closet at the centre of the apartment into which Can and his mother fit like seeds into a pomegranate. It is padded to recording studio standards, but Can’s mother still starts and widens her eyes at every muted thud or rattle that transmits itself through the old timbers of the tekke. This is the time she speaks to him, in the softest whisper. For half an hour a month Can hears his mother’s voice as she tends to his ear canals with medicated cotton buds.
The day the sounds went away is the earliest memory Can trusts. He was four years old. The white hospital was square and modern, with much glass, and seemed to flash in the sun. It was a very good hospital, his father said. Expensive, his mother said, and says still, when she reminds Can of the health insurance that keeps them in this dilapidated old tekke in a faded part of town. Can had known it must be expensive because it stood by the water. Beyond the window of the ear clinic was a great ship loaded high with containers, closer and bigger than any moving thing he had seen before. He sat on the disposable sanitised sheet and swung his legs and watched more and more ship come into view until it filled the window. They were looking at his ears.
“How does that feel?” his father said. Can turned his head one way, then the other, sensing out the new presences in his ears.
“There will be some discomfort for a few days,” the ear doctor said. On came the great ship, huge as an island. “You will need to clean them once a month. The electronics are very robust; you’ve no need to worry about
breaking them. Shall we try it? Can . . .”And his hearing had flown away, every sound in the world driven to the farthest edge of the universe. The doctor, his father, became like tiny birds. His own name turned into a whisper. The ship sailed past silently. Can thinks of it as the ship that took all the sound in the world away. When he goes up onto the terrace to peer down steep Vermilion-Maker Lane at that tiny vee of Bosphorus, he still hopes that he will see the ship that brings it back again, a different sound in each container.
His mother had made aşure that night. A special pudding for a special time. Aşure was a big treat in her family; they were from the east. Can had heard the story of Noah’s pudding, how it was made up from the seven things left uneaten when the ark came to rest onArarat, many times from his mother and his grandmother when she was still alive, but that night Mum and Dad told it with their hands. High on sugar and twitching at the discomfort in his ears, Can had not been able to sleep. Airbursts flashed onto the Barney Bugs wallpaper. He had flung open the shutters. The sky was exploding. Fireworks blossomed above Istanbul, dropping silver rain. Arcs of yellow and blue stabbed up into the night. Bronze fire cascaded silver from starbursts of gold so high Can craned hard to see them. All in a hush of muffled thuds and whispered whooshes, detonations muted as a bread crust breaking. The near silence made the lights in the sky brighter and stranger than anything Can had ever seen. The world might be ending up there, the seven heavens cracking apart and raining fire onto the earth.Mortars lobbed their payloads higher and higher. Can heard them as pops on the edge of his perceptions, like pea pods releasing their seeds. Now luminous armies battled above the solar water heaters and satellite dishes of Istanbul: battalions of blazing janissaries armed with flash and artillery against swift, sparkling sipahis who galloped from one side of the sky to the other in a whisper. Above, a little lower than the stars themselves, the angels of the seven heavens warred with the angels of the seven hells, and for one searing moment the sky blazed as if the light of every star since the birth of the universe had arrived at once over Istanbul. Can felt its silver warmth on his upturned face.
As the light faded, so the city returned the gift. From the Bosphorus first, the soft flute of a ship’s siren, building in a chorus of tankers, ferries, hydrofoils and water taxis. The streets replied with tram hooters, delicate as prayers,
then the brassier, flatter blare of car and truck horns. Can leaned forward, trying to hear. He thought he could make out dance music spilling from the Adem Dede teahouse. He could feel its beat, a pulse against his own. Beneath it all, human voices, cheering and whooping, laughing and singing, shouting nothing at all except for the joy of making pure noise; all bleeding into an aggregate of crowd. To Can it was a hiss of static. The people packed the streets and the little square with its two teahouses and one minimarket. Many carried little flags; more had bottles. Can could not believe so many people lived in tight, enclosedAdem Dede Square. Cars sounded their horns in exuberance and flew flags from their windows; the white-on-red crescent and star of Turkey, and a blue flag bearing a circle of golden stars. Those same flags were in the hands of the people in Adem Dede Square: crescents and stars. Can watched a young bare-chested man swing along the balcony of the konak on the corner of Vermilion-Maker and Stolen Chicken Lanes, his country’s crescent and star painted white on his red face. The crescent made him look as if he were smiling. He turned to wave down to the crowd. They waved up. He pretended he was going to jump down. Can held his breath. It was the same height as his viewpoint. The crowd now seemed to be cheering the man on. Suddenly he let go. Can always remembers him falling through the streetlight, his skin shiny with sweat, his face eternally grinning in the face of gravity. He vanished into the crowd. Can never learned what happened to him.
He only knew his mother was beside him by the touch on his arm.
“What’s happening?” Can asked. His own voice seemed small as a lizard’s. His mother knelt beside him, pressed her lips close to his ear. When she spoke he felt its tickle as much as heard the words.
“Can, love, we’re Europeans now.”
Can runs through the hushed corridors of the dervish house. He knows all the best vantages onto the world beyond. Can runs up to the terrace. It smells of hot wooden patio furniture and desiccating geraniums. Can lifts himself up on his tiptoes to peer over the wobbly wooden shuttering. His parents will condemn him to a world of whispers, but they never think that he might just fall off the terrace. He sees smoke rising up between the circling storks. There is not very much of it. Necatibey Cadessi, as he thought. Then his fingers grip white on the age-silvered balcony rail. The air above Adem Dede Square fills with grainy motion, as if from a dust dervish or a plague of locusts. The flock of insect-sized swarmbots barrels through the middle air, flowing around streetlights and electricity cables, channelled into a stream of furious motion by the close-pressing apartment blocks. Can beats his fists on the rail in excitement. Every nine-year-old-boy loves bots. Right in front of his eyes they turn in midair and pour down steep Vermilion-Maker Lane like water over rocks. In the open sky above the rooftops, the dancing-hall of storks, the wind would overwhelm their nanofan engines and disperse them like dust. Can finds flocks within flocking, flows within flows, strange currents, fractal forms, selforganising entities. Mr. Ferentinou has taught him to see the blood beneath the world’s skin: the simple rules of the very small that build into the seeming complexity of the great.
“Monkey Monkey Monkey!” Can Durukan shouts as the tail end of the swarm vanishes around the twists and staggers of Vermilion-Maker Lane. “After them!”
A stir in the still-shadowed corners of the dining room, a scurrying in the intricate woodwork of the terrace screen. From nooks and crevices the machines come clambering, scampering, rolling. Tumbling balls fuse into scuttling crabs; many-limbed climbing things link and twist into arms. Piece by piece the disparate units self-assemble until the last section locks and a plastic monkey leaps up onto the rail, clinging with hands and feet and prehensile tail, and turns its sensor-dotted head on its master.
Can pulls the smartsilk computer out of his pocket, unfolds it and opens the haptic field. He flexes a finger. The robot monkey twitches alert. Can points, and it is off in a thrilling spring up onto the power line and a hand-and-foot gallop over the street to a coiled jump to the balcony opposite where the Georgian woman insists on hanging her underwear out to dry. Up up and up again. Can sees it perched on a parapet, a shadow against the sky.
Can’s toy BitBots cannot compare to the police machines that flocked past him, but Mr. Ferentinou has pushed them far beyond the manufacturer’s specifications. Can clicks the Monkey icon. Bird, Snake, Rat and Monkey are the four manifestations of his BitBots. Between their four elements, they create the city that is barred to Can. He sees through their eyes. Can giggles in excitement as he falls in behind Monkey’s many sensors and careers across rooftops, weaves through mazes of aerial and cable, leaps the thrilling gaps between close-shouldering konaks. By map and the point-of-view camera link Can steers his eyes down through the roofs of crumbling old Eskiköy. Only a boy could do it. He is part superhero, part extreme-sports free-runner, part cityracer, part ninja. It is the greatest computer game. Parapet to parapet to pole to hands feet and tail scramble down the plastic sign of theAllianz Insurance. Can Durukan arrives at the scene of the blast, clinging upside down to the bottom of a giant letter I.
It disappoints. It is not a very big explosion. There are ambulances and fire trucks and police cars with flashing lights and news crews arriving by the minute, but the tram hardly looks damaged at all. Can scans the crowd. Faces cameras faces cameras. A face he recognises among the onlookers; that ratfaced guy who has moved into the empty quarter of the old house; the one with the brother who is some kind of street-judge. At first Can resented their squatting. The deserted rooms filled with dust and pigeon shit were his undiscovered country. He had thought of sending Monkey—the only one of his agents with hands—to move things around, pretend to be the ghosts of old unquiet dervishes. But Rat-Face might lay a trap for mischievous Monkey and capture him before he could split into his separate units and slip away. Observation was the game.
Rat-Face is trying to slip away. He almost starts a fight with a big man in a white shirt.What is he doing now? He looks as if he’s seen a ghost. Now he’s barging his way through the crowd. If the scene-of-crime bots see him they’ll needle him with their stings. That would be exciting. Can still wishes ill on Rat-Face and his kadı brother, defilers of his sacred space. No, he’s made it out.
Monkey uncurls his tail from the stanchion and prepares to swing back up onto the rooftops. Nothing decent to post online. Then Can notices a glint of movement in the Commerzbank sign on the building to the left. There’s something in there. Monkey swivels his sensor-studded head and zooms in. Click click click. Movement, a glitter of plastic. Then the disparate motions come together. Can holds his breath. He looks close up into the face of another manyeyed monkey bot.And as he stares the head turns, the smart-plastic camera eyes bulge and focus and stare back.
The confectioner Lefteres used to say that all the Greeks in Eskiköy could fit into one tea shop. Now they fit around one table.
“Here he comes now.”
Georgios Ferentinou waddles across Adem Dede Square. Square is too grand for what is little more than a widening of the street that runs past the Mevlevi tekke. An old public fountain stands in a niche in a wall, dry longer than any Eskiköy resident’s memory. Room enough for two çayhanes, Aydin’s kiosk on the corner of Stolen Chicken Lane with its spectacular display of Russian porn clothes-pegged to the bottom of the canopy, Arslan’s NanoMart, the Improving Bookstore that specialises in colourful publications for elementary school children, and That Woman’s Art Shop. Aydin the pornographer takes his morning tea in the Fethi Bey çayhane, on the insalubrious staircase on the derelict side of the dervish house. Adem Dede Square is small enough for two tea shops but big enough for rivalries.
“Hot,” Georgios Ferentinou wheezes. He fans himself with a laminated menu. The order is immutable as the stones of Aghia Sofia, but Bülent the çayhane owner always lays out the menus. That cheap bastard Aykut across the square never takes that trouble. “Again.” He sweats freely. Georgios Ferentinou is a fat bulb of a man, balanced on tiny dancer’s feet so that he seems permanently on the teeter-totter. None of his çayhane compatriots have ever seen him in anything lesser than the high-waisted trousers and the white linen jacket he wears today. A hat perhaps, in the highest of summers, like the terrible ’22, and when the sun gets low and shines through the slot of sky along Vermilion-Maker Lane, a pair of tiny, round dark glasses that turn his eyes into two black raisins. On those increasingly rare days when snow falls in Adem Dede Square and the tea drinkers are driven inside behind breath-steamed windows, a red woollen scarf and a great black coat like some old Crimean trader from the last days of the empire.
“Hot as hell,” Constantin agrees. “Already.”
“We’ve saved you a leg.” Lefteres pushes a plate across the small café table. Upon it a marzipan lamb lies slaughtered, its body broken. Delicate red frosting crosses adorn its grainy, yellow flanks. For over one hundred and fifty years since they arrived from Salonika into the capital of the empire, the family Lefteres made marzipan Paschal lambs for the Christians of Constantinople. Lambs for Easter; crystallised fruit made lustrous with edible gold and silver foils, the gifts of the Magi, for Christmas. Muslims were not ignored by the Lefteres: sesame candies and brittle sugary confection dishes for Sweet Bayram at the end of Ramazan. Boxes of special lokum and pistachio brittles for wedding calls and sweetening conversations. Family Lefteres sold the shop before the end of the century, but the last of the line still makes his sweet lambs and jewelled fruit, his Bayram delights for Adem Dede Square. And he is still known as Lefteres the Confectioner.
Bülent sets down Georgios Ferentinou’s invariable glass of apple tea.
“Here’s the Father now,” he says. The last of the four old Greeks of Adem
Dede Square sits down heavily in his ordained seat beside Georgios Ferentinou.
“God save all here.” Father Ioannis stretches his legs painfully out under the table. “God damn my knees.”Without a word Bülent sets down the Father’s linden tea in its delicate tulip glass. Father Ioannis takes a sip. “Ah. Great. Bastards have been at it again.”
“What are they doing this time?” Bülent asks.
“Someone slopped a bucket of piss into the porch. Half of it ran under the door into the sanctuary. I’ve been up since four trying to scrub it all off. Bastards.What I can’t figure is, they must have been storing it up for days. All those teenagers standing around pissing in a bucket and giggling to themselves.”
“This is assuming,” says the most quiet of the Adem Dede çayhane divan, “that it was actually human urine. It could have been some large animal.”
“In the middle of this city?” says Father Ioannis. “Anyway, God and His Mother preserve me, I know what human piss smells like.”
Constantin the Alexandrian shrugs and examines the cigarette burning close to his yellow fingertips.
“It’s going to take a lot of incense to get rid of the stink before Easter, and who’s going to pay for that?” Father Ioannis grumbles. “I can’t even get the Patriarchate to fix that tile on the roof.”
Georgios Ferentinou thinks this Easter he might visit the shrine of Aghia Panteleimon. He has no belief—faith is beneath his dignity—but he enjoys the designed madness of religion. The minuscule church is tucked away down an alley off an alley off an alley. Older than any name in Eskiköy, Aghia Panteleimon let the district grow up around it like a fruit around a seed. It houses the sword that bent rather than behead its eponymous martyr (until he so decided) and a fine collection of icons of its patron saint, some in the alternate, Russian style, with his hands nailed to his head. The woman who owns the art gallery in the former dancing hall has made Father Ioannis a fine offer for his macabre icons. They are not his to sell. If he does go this Easter, Georgios Ferentinou knows he may well be the only attendee. Perhaps a couple of old widows, come from Christ-knows-where in their raven black. Even before the ethnic cleansing of 1955 the tide of faith had ebbed from Eskiköy. Yet lately he has sensed it stealing back in little seepings and runnels, feeling its way over the cobbles and around the lintel stones. It’s a more strident faith than that of either Aghia Panteleimon or the Mevlevi Order. It has an easterly aspect. It’s rawer, younger, more impatient, more confident.
“It’s the heat I say, the heat,” says Lefteres the Confectioner. “Makes them fighting mad.”
“And the football,” Bülent adds. “There’ll be some English fan stabbed before the end of the week. Heat and football.”
The Greeks of the Adem Dede teahouse nod and murmur their agreement.
“So have you finished that lampoon then?” Father Ioannis asks.
Lefteres unfolds a sheet of A4 and slides it to the centre of the table. It is blank white.
“I have decided not to do this one.”
Lefteres, master of sugar and succulence, paschal lambs and gilded fruit, is the resident lampoonist of Eskiköy. A pestering boyfriend, an unrecovered debt, unwelcome loud music or somebody fly-tipping in your Dumpster: go to Lefteres at the Adem Dede çayhane. Pay him what he asks. It will not be cheap. Quality is never cheap. But the very next morning Eskiköy will wake to find a single sheet of A4, always handwritten, thumbtacked to the offending door, gaffer-taped to a window, gunged to the windshield of a parked car. In the best Turkish verse and scansion and the highest of style, every vice is listed and shamed, every personal attribute ridiculed. Every intimate detail is excoriated. Lefteres’s research is immaculate. It works without fail. The crowd at the door is an ancient and powerful sanction.Word of a new lampoon travels fast. People come from far beyond Eskiköy to read and marvel. There are international Web sites dedicated to the lampoons of Lefteres the Confectioner of Eskiköy.
“Have you told Sibel Hanım?” Georgios Ferentinou says.
“I have indeed,” Lefteres says. “She wasn’t happy. But I told her that part of my commission is that I must be absolutely satisfied myself that there is just cause as well as clear social need. That’s always been the case. Always. The woman is not a prostitute. Simple as that. Georgian she may be, but that doesn’t make her a prostitute.”
Since the Caucasus and central Asia found that the front door to Europe now opened onto theirs, Georgians, Armenians, Azeris, Ukrainians, workers from as far as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, Syrians, Lebanese, Iranians, Kurds in their tens of thousands have flooded across Anatolia, the buckle strapped across the girth of great Eurasia, Istanbul the pin. And that is how Georgios knows Lefteres’s reasons for not accepting the lampoon. Istanbul was a city of peoples before and knows it shall be again, a true cosmopolis. The time of the Turk is ending. Georgians, Greeks: sojourners alike.
“Here, do you know who I saw yesterday on Güneşli Sok?” Constantin asks. “Ariana Sinanidis.”
“How long is it since she went to Greece?” asks Lefteres.
“Forty-seven years,” says Georgios Ferentinou. “What’s she doing back here?”
“Either a will or a property dispute. What else does anyone come back for?” Constantin says.
“I haven’t heard of any deaths,” Father Ioannis says. In as small and intimate a community as the Greeks of Istanbul, every death is a small holocaust. Then the bomb goes off. The sound of the explosion echoes flatly, flappingly from the house fronts. It is a little blast, barely distinguishable from the growl of morning traffic, but the four men at the table look up.
“How far was that?”
“Under a kilometre, I’d say.”
“Well under a kilo. It might well have been just the detonator.”
“Whereabouts would you say?”
“I would guess down towards Tophane Meydanı.”
“No guesses. This is an exact science.”
Constantin taps up news feeds on the smartpaper lying among the tea glasses and coffee cups.
“Necatibey Cadessi. Tram bomb,” Constantin says.
Behind the counter, Bülent clenches a fist.
“Bastard!” says Lefteres. “What’s he made now?”
Georgios Ferentinou pulls out his ceptep. His thumb moves unswervingly over the icons.
“The Terror Market is up twenty points.”
“Lord Jesus Son of God have mercy on us,” says Father Ioannis. His fingers tie a knot on his prayer rope.
“Breakfast is on the house then,” says Bülent.
Georgios Ferentinou never saw economics as the Dismal Science. To him it is applied psychology, the most human of sciences. There are profound human truths in the romance between want and aversion; delicate beauties in the meshing intricacies of complex financial instruments as precise and jewelled as any Isfahan miniature. The blind wisdom of the mass still amazes him as it did when he first discovered it in a jar of plushy toys. The jar had sat on the desk of Göksel Hanım, his morning-school teacher. She had brought it back from a visit to her sister in Fort Lauderdale. Seduced by the Mouse, she had gone on a plushy spree across Disneyworld. Goofies and Mickies, Plutos and Stitches and little Simbas were packed together like pickles, eyes gazing out at eight-year-old Georgios Ferentinou. Çiftçi, Göksel Hanım had insisted on calling him. A Turkish transliteration of his name. Çiftçi had found the compressed figures strangely attractive. It would be quite good, he thought, to be squeezed into a jar full of other soft bodies.
“Guess how many there are,” Göksel Hanım said to her class, “and you will win them.”
Çiftçi was lazy. He was told that every day by Göksel Hanım. Lazy and dull. He wanted the bodies in the jar so he did what any lazy and dull boy would. He asked his classmates. Their answers ranged for fifteen to fifty. Dull, lazy and reluctant to commit to decisions, Çiftçi added the answers and divided them by the number of pupils in the class, rounding up for luck.
“Thirty-seven,” he said confidently to Göksel Hanım. Thirty-seven there were, exactly. Göksel Hanım gave him the jar grudgingly. He stared at it for months, on his bedside table, enjoying their captivity. Then one day his mother had taken them away to clean them. She returned them all to their confinement, but damp had got in, and within two weeks they were green and bad smelling and were thrown out. It was his first exposure to the power of aggregation. The mass decides.
There is a market for anything. Debts. Carbon pollution. The value of future orange harvests in Brazil and gas output in the Ukraine. Telecommunications bandwidth. Weather insurance. Buy low, sell high. Self-interest is the engine; aggregation, like the class of ’71, the gear-train. Georgios Ferentinou has merely extended the free-market principle to terrorism.
The market is played this way: A network of a thousand traders is strung across Istanbul. They range from economics students to schoolchildren and their mothers to real traders on the Stamboul Carbon Bourse. All night AIs sift the news networks—those deep channels that Georgios Ferentinou took with him when he left academia, and less exalted sources like chat rooms, forums and social- and political-networking sites. By dawn they have drawn up a long list of potential future news. Georgios Ferentinou’s first task of the day, even before he takes his breakfast tea at the Adem Dede teahouse, is to draw up that day’s list of tradable contracts in his pyjamas and slippers. By the time he shuffles across the square to his table, the offers are out across the city like softgliding storks and the bids are coming in. I’ll buy twenty contracts at a settlement price of one hundred on Galatasaray beating Arsenal two–one on Thursday. How much do you want to pay for them? That depends on how likely you think it is that Galatasaray will beat Arsenal two–one. This is the easiest future contract, a straight sporting bet. There is a clear termination point at which the contract is fulfilled—the sound of the referee’s final whistle in the Galatasaray Stadium—and a simple payout. All you have to do is decide how much you will buy that payout for, and for others to decide how much they will pay to buy that contract off you. All trading is betting.
How much would you pay for a contract with a settlement of one hundred on a bet that the price of gas will rise by 15 percent by close of trade next Monday? Thirty? Fifty, for a hundred payout? What if you see the price rising on the Carbon Bourse? Seventy, eighty? Turn those prices into percentages and you have a probability; you have a prediction of future news.
Thirty, fifty, one hundred, what are these? Kudos: the artificial currency of Georgios Ferentinou’s Terror Market. A light, odourless virtual money, but not without value. Kudos are not points in a game. They can be exchanged for other virtual-world or social-networking or online-game currencies, some of which can be converted up into real-world, pocketable cash. They can be traded. That is another one of Georgios Ferentinou’s behavioural economics experiments. Kudos are worth something. Georgios Ferentinou understands there is no market without real gain, and the possibility of real loss. The money makes it work.
Here’s another contract. Settlement price one hundred kudos. There will be a suicide strike on Istanbul public transport on a major arterial during the current heat wave. Do you buy it?
Georgios Ferentinou checks the closing price. Eighty-three kudos. High, given the plethora of speculative factors: the time since the bombing at the bus station; Ankara’s announcement of a clampdown on political organisations opposed to the national secular agenda; the possibility that the heat wave might break in glorious lightning among the minarets of Istanbul. Then he tracks the price since the contract was offered. It has risen as steadily as the thermometer. This is the miracle of the Terror Market. Buying and selling, petty greed, are more powerful prophets than the experts and artificial intelligence models of the National MIT security service. Complex behaviour from simple processes.
The woman who runs the religious art shop in the bottom of the dervish house crosses the square. She squats down to unlock the security shutter. Her heels come a little off the ground as she balances on the balls of her feet. She wears good boots and patterned tights, a smart skirt not too short, a well-cut jacket. Hot for this weather but stylish. Georgios Ferentinou watches her run up the shutter with a rolling clatter. Such unconscious ease costs gym fees. Her ceptep rings, the call tone a spray of silvery sitar music. Georgios Ferentinou looks away with a small grimace of regret. He was admired once too. A disturbance in the air draws his eyes up, a shiver like heat haze, a plague of tiny mites, the visual equivalent of the glittering glissando of the art-shop woman’s call tone.
The swarm of gnat-sized machines swirls in the choked air of Adem Dede. Even the boy bringing the sesame-dusted simits from Aydin’s kiosk looks up. Then the cloud of nanorobots pours down Vermilion-Maker Lane like water over a weir, following the stepped terrain beneath them, flowing around the schoolchildren, the women, old Sibel Hanım labouring up and down the steps. Follow the flock. Avoid near neighbours but try to maintain an equal distance from them. Cohesion, alignment, separation. Three rudimentary rules; the well of complex liquid beauty.
In the corner of his vision Georgios Ferentinou glimpses the little monkeybot go helter-skelter across the electricity line and jump to the offending Georgian woman’s balcony. A strange world that boy inhabits, he thinks. A world of whispers, of distant tintinnabulations on the edge of hearing, like angel voices. But is it any stranger than four old Greeks, flotsam adrift for decades in the crash and suck of history, gathering over tea and doughnuts to divine the future? And Ariana is back. Almost half a century and she is in Eskiköy. No deal, no play of trades and future outcomes could have predicted that. Ariana is back and nothing is safe now.
The yalı leans over the salt water, balcony upon balcony. Adnan opens the roof terrace’s wooden shutters. The heat of the morning beats in mingled with coils of cool from the Bosphorus. The current is dark. Adnan has always felt the Bosphorus to be dark, dark as blood, dark as the birth canal. It feels deep to him, deep and drowning. He knows where this fear comes from: from his father’s boat and the endless sunlit afternoons of a childhood lived on water. This is why his seal of success has always been a place by the edge of the water. It is the lure of the fear, the reminder that everything you have won may be lost in an unconsidered moment. The early sun turns the side of a Russian gas carrier into a wall of light. It is a monster. Adnan Sarioğlu smiles to himself. Gas is power.
“One million two hundred you say?”
The real estate agent waits by the door. He isn’t even properly awake, but he’s shaved and suited. You have to get up early to sell to the gas lords. A dealer knows a dealer.
“It’s a very sought-after location, and as you can see, you can move straight in. You have your own boat dock and waterside terrace for entertaining.”
Adnan Sarioğlu shoots some video.
“We’ve had a lot of interest in this property,” the realtor presses. “These old yalıs do go fast.”
“Of course they do,” says Adnan Sarioğlu. It is not a real yalı; those were all bought up long ago, or are collapsing under the weight of their decaying timbers in forgotten coves along the Bosphorus, or have burned decades since. It is a fake, but a good fake. Turkey is the land of the masterful fake. But it is far far from that hateful little eighth-floor apartment huddling between the roar of the expressway and the blare of the mosque.
He pans the ceptep across the terrace. Already he is filling the space with skinny Scandinavian furniture. This could be an office. It would just be leather sofas and old Ottoman coffee tables, lifestyle magazines and a killer sound system. He would come in the morning and summon his avatars to spin around him, hauling in spot prices from Baku to Berlin. The big dealers, the paşas, all work this way; from the boat club, from the gym, from the restaurant. Perfectly weightless. Yes, this is a house to start his dynasty. He can’t afford it. The realtor’s background check will have disclosed that. But they will have shown that he is the kind of man who could have money, very very much money, and that’s the reason the agent has got up in the predawn and showered and shaved and scented and put on his good suit.
He pans the ceptep across the reach of the waterway. He blinks the zoom in on the pastel houses along the European shore. Bigger cars, faster boats, deeper docks, farther from their neighbours’ shadows. Money and class have always clung to the edge of Europe. He double-takes, pans back. Between the shiny slick twenty-first-century yalıs with their low-sloping photosynthetic roofs is a pile of timbers, grey and lone as a widow, roof caved in, front wall slumping towards the water, window frames eyeless and half closed. A ghost of a house, abandoned and neglected among its young, tall, brilliant neighbours. A true yalı. It may have stood, decaying year upon year, from the Ottoman centuries. He blinks closer onto its empty windows, its sagging lintels and eaves. He cannot begin to imagine how much it would cost to return it to habitability let alone make it a place to raise a family, but he knows where he will go next. He begins here; he ends on the shadow of the bridge, on the toes of Europe.
On the edge of his vision he glimpses smoke. The plume goes up straight as a flagpole into the clear blue air. In an instant he has zoomed in on it. Amap overlay gives him a location: Beyoğlu. Now a news mite bursts into the steady procession of gas spot prices across his retina: TRAM BOMBING ON NECATIBEY CADESSI. PIX TO FOLLOW.
Ayşe rides that tram.
Her ceptep rings three times four times five times six.
“You took your time.”
“That shutter’s sticking worse than ever. It’s going to need replacing.”
“So you totally missed the bomb, then?”
“Oh that was down on Necatibey Cadessi.Aswarm of police bots just went past.”
Adnan wonders if Ayşe’s otherworldliness is her natural aristocratic nonchalance or some emanation from the art and artefacts that surround her. That shop, for all the hedge fund managers and carbon paşas looking for a little investment in religious art; it’s not a proper business. It’s a lady’s pursuit. She’ll give it up when they move in here, when the babies start to come.
“It was your tram.”
“Do you not remember I said I was going in early? There’s a potential supplier calling before work.”
“Well, you watch yourself. These things never happen in ones.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for suicide bombers. How’s the yalı?”
“I’ll send you the video. I may be late back. I’m trying to get a meeting with Ferid Bey tonight.” The name-drop is as much for the realtor as for his wife. There is a beat of radio silence that is the equivalent of an exasperated sigh. “I’ll see you when I see you then.”
At some dark hour he will slip back through the curve of taillights arching over the bridge to the eighth-floor apartment. She may be watching television, or half-watching it while she puts on laundry, or if his meetings have hauled on and on, be in bed. Then he will slip in without turning on the lights, a quick mumble as she surfaces through sleep like a dolphin, in behind her to press the rough warmth of his dick against the bed-heat of her smooth ass and the return press, then down with her, lured down into sleep so fast there is not even time for the twitch of the terror of drowning. All around, the sweet incense of fabric conditioner. It’s no way to live. But he has seen the end of it. A few more days of effort and it’s over.
Adnan Sarioğlu snaps off his ceptep.
“One million two hundred thousand you say?” he asks.
“We’ve had a number of offers,” the realtor says.
“I’ll give you one million one.”
"Offers are generally in excess of the asking price.”
"I’m sure they are. But this isn’t an offer; this is a price. In cash.”
The realtor flusters. Adnan drives home his advantage.
“One point one million euro in cash to your office by noon Friday.”
“We, ah, don’t usually deal in cash.”
“You don’t deal in cash? Cash is king, is what cash is. Do anything with cash, you can. Friday, lunchtime. You have the contract on the desk and I’ll sign it and shake your hand and you take my fucking cash.”
Three minutes later Adnan Sarioğlu’s car leans into the on-ramp to the bridge, accelerating into a stream of Europe-bound vehicles. Autodrive makes microadjustments to the car’s speed; the other vehicles read Adnan’s signals and correspondingly adjust their distances and velocities to accommodate him. All across the Bosphorus Bridge, through every arterial of vast Istanbul, every second the ceaseless pump of traffic shifts and adjusts, a flock of vehicles.
Drive-time radio news at the top of the hour. The tram bomb is already downgraded. No one dead besides the suicide bomber. A woman. Unusual. No promise of Paradise’s rewards for her; just eternity married to the same old twat. Something in the family. It always is. Men die for abstractions, women for their families. No, the big story is the weather. Hot hot hot again. High of thirty-eight and humidity 80 percent and no end in sight. Adnan nods in satisfaction as the Far East gas spot-price ticker crawls across the bottom of the windshield. His forty-eight-hour delivery put-options on Caspian Gas will hit their strike this morning. Nice little earner. He’ll need the premiums for a few small necessary purchases on Turquoise. Cash is always king. Adnan slips the nozzle of the inhaler up his nostril. The rush of inhaled nano breaks across his forebrain and the numbers become sharp, the focus clear. He hovers high above the golden fabric of deals and derivatives, spots and strikes. Only the concentration-enhancing nano makes it possible for Adnan to pick a pattern from the weave of transactions. The old traders use more and more to keep pace with the young Turks. He’s seen the shake in their hands and the blur in their eyes as he rides down the express elevator with them to the underground parking lot after the back office has settled out. Nano, Caspian gas, CO2 and traders: all the many ways of carbon.
Music: the special call tone of his paşa, his white knight. Adnan clicks him up on the windshield.
He is a fat-faced man with skin smooth from the barber’s razor, almost doll-like in its sheer buffed finish. Adnan recalls from his research that Ferid is very vain, very groomed.
“I’m interested in this. Of course I’ll need much more detail, but I think we can do business. I’ll be at the Hacı Kadın baths from seven thirty.” He laughs hugely, though there is no comedy in his words.
“I’ll see you there.”
The call ends. The Audi stitches itself in and out of the traffic, and Adnan Sarioğlu beats his hands on the dashboard and whoops with delight. A new call chimes in; a poppier tune, the theme from an animated TV series that Adnan and his three fellow Ultralords of the Universe grew up with.
Adnan and Oğuz graduated from the MBA and entered Özer together. Adnan floated into lofty hydrocarbons and the realm of abstract money; Oğuz was pumped into Distribution, the all-too-solid domain of pipelines and compression stations, tanker terminals and holding centres. It’s lowly, unglamorous; very far from lunch at Olcay and champagne at Su come bonus time. Too easily overlooked. That was why, when the idea of Turquoise struck in its full, lighting intensity as he rode the elevator up the glass face of the Özer Tower, Oğuz was the first call of his old college friends.
“Volkan’s got a fitness test at twelve.”
“He’ll never make it,” Adnan says. “Fat bastard’s so out of condition he can’t even touch his toes.”
Oğuz’s face grins in the smartglass of the windshield. The four Ultralords of the Universe are also ultra-Galatasaray fans. On their bonuses they could easily afford a corporate box atAslantepe, but they like to be in the stands, with the fans, with their kebabs and their small flasks of sipping rakı. Cimbom Cimbom Cimbom! Fighting stuff that rakı. The Ultralords understand going to games. It is not about sport. There is no such thing as sport. It is about seeing the other team lose. One million goals would not be enough to crush the opposition. When he is up there with the rest of the boys, Adnan wants to see the opposition all die on stakes. The Romans had it right. It’s fighting stuff. Give us blood.
“So where are you?” Oğuz asks.
Adnan flicks on his transponder. A map of mid-Istanbul overlies Oğuz’s grinning face on his windshield. Oğuz is on the Fatih Sultan Bridge to the north. The distances are comparable; the driveware calculates traffic densities. A little jockey-programme generates odds. Oğuz’s grin widens. He likes those odds.
“I’ll go five hundred euro.”
“Eight hundred.” Adnan likes those odds too. “And the tip.” There is etiquette to the Ultralords of the Universe’s street races. The tip is that the loser pays the winner’s traffic fines.
“Element of Air assist me!” Adnan shouts. “In three. Two. One.” He grabs the steering handset and flicks off the autodrive. Warnings blare through the car. Adnan ignores them and floors the pedal. The gas engine barely raises a note, but the car leaps forward into the traffic. The self-guiding cars fluster and part like panicked chickens as Adnan piles through. There is a time to peel out from the flock. Adnan Sarioğlu laughs as he spears through the traffic. The Audi leans like a motorbike as he crosses lanes. Cars peel away like the bow-wave of a Russian gas tanker. The game is on. Adnan feels the roar build inside him, the roar that never goes away, that is in the kick of the nanotuned gas engine of his street-sweet German car, that wells in him when Ayşe moves against him on those nights he slips home in the dark, when she murmurs so and opens to let him press inside her; but most, most in the shriek of gas hurtling down the Blue Line, under the Bosphorus, out into the world of money, that is the deal, every deal, every closing. The roar that never, never stops. In seven minutes he will take Oğuz for five hundred euro and a dozen traffic-cam fines. Tonight he will meet the manager of one of Istanbul’s fattest hedge funds. On Friday he will slap down a briefcase full of notes in front of that piss-eyed realtor in his hideous shiny little Lidl suit and set the name of Sarioğlu down by the waters of the Bosphorus. It is the game, the only game and the always game.
The angel is blind and shackled by an iron band around his right foot. His eyes are blank stone orbs. He is naked and wreathed in flame, male, marvellously muscular and lithe yet sexless. He flies by the power of his own will, arms outstretched, intent but ignorant, blind to his own blindness, straining against the single shackle. The blind angel’s left arm claws for the child. He craves it with sense other than sight.
The second angel cradles the child away from that grasp. He too is male, defined yet kept chaste by the leg of the child. He stands on a ribbon of cloud low on an indefinite sea. He looks to the blind angel with an expression of incomprehension. The child, a sturdy lad improbably muscled, faces away. His arm is held up in a plea for help. His hair is very curly. The succouring angel looks like a prig. All the passion, all the energy, is in the blind, burning angel.
“William Blake, The Good and Evil Angels,” Ayşe Erkoç says, leaning close over the print. “I love William Blake. I love his vision, I love the prophetic fire that burns through his art and his poetry, I love the completeness of his cosmology. I’ve studied William Blake, I’ve read William Blake, I’ve seen William Blake, in folio, and in London. On very rare, very special occasions, I’ve sold William Blake. Original William Blake. This is not William Blake. This is garbage. The paper’s all wrong, the line is like a five-year-old’s, I can smell the bleach from here, and there’s a spelling error in the text. This is an insult to my professionalism.”
Topaloğlu’s cheeks quiver in embarrassment. Ayşe thinks of them as two slabs of condemned liver. Offal propped apart by a wide, rural moustache. “I mean no insult, Mrs. Erkoç.”
“There’s a world—no, a universe—of difference between unclear provenance and a Grand Bazaar fake,” Ayşe continues. “If I can see it, my buyers can see it. They know at least as much as I do. These are collectors, aficionados, investors, people who purely love religious art, who love nothing else. They may not care where or how I get a piece. They care very much that it’s genuine. The moment they hear I’m selling fakes, they go to Antalya Fine Arts or the Salyan Gallery.”
Topaloğlu’s humiliation deepens. He is a cheap little peddler with the soul of a carpet seller, Ayşe thinks. Abdurrahman recommended him to Ayşe as a man who could get Isfahan miniatures. She will have to have a word with Abdurrahman Bey.
“I may have to reconsider our business relationship.”
He’s pale now. Hafize, the gallery assistant, eavesdropper and interferer in concerns not hers, dips in and haughtily sweeps away his tea glass on her tray. She’s wearing the headscarf again. Ayşe will have to have a word with her. She’s become bolder in her flaunting of it since the tarikat, the Islamic study group, began meetings in the old kitchen quarters. Ayşe’s seen how the young men look at her as she locks the gallery shutter of an evening. They want her and her idolatrous images out. Let them try. The Erkoçs have good connections and deep purses.
“What else have you got?” Ayşe asks.
Topaloğlu sets out miniatures like fortune-telling cards. He has donkey teeth, yellow plates of enamel. They make Ayşe feel ill. She bends over the miniatures laid out on the table in the private viewing room and clicks down the magnifier lens in her ceptep eyepiece.
“These are genuine,” Topaloğlu says.
But very poor, Ayşe thinks, scanning the brushwork, the framing, the fine detail of the backgrounds. In the Isfahan and Topkapı schools, miniatures were the work of many hands. Each artist had his specialisation and spent all his life perfecting it. There were masters of roses, of cloudscapes, of rocks; there were maestros who never painted anything but tilework. These are obvious apprentice pieces. The contrast between the exquisitely drawn figures and the crude backgrounds is glaring. The fine eye, the minuscule detail has not yet emerged. The great miniaturists, anonymous all of them but for their style, could paint a trellis, a window screen, a tiled wall, with a single hair. These are productionline works for volumes of Sufi poetry, the kind that minor paşas and beys bought by the shelf to impress their inferiors.
“Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. Is that it? What’s in the shoebox?”
Topaloğlu has been keeping it by his side, half hidden under the flap of his jacket. A Nike box, a style from five years back, Ayşe notes. At least he is wearing proper gentlemen’s shoes for this meeting, decently polished. Shoes speak loud, in Ayşe’s experience.
“Just a few of what you might call trinkets.”
“Show me.”Ayşe does not wait for Topaloğlu to open the box; she snatches off the lid. Inside there is indeed a rattle of junk: Armenian crosses, Orthodox censers, a couple of verdigrised Koran covers. Grand Bazaar tourist tat. Amidst the tarnished brass, glints of silver. Miniature Korans. Ayşe greedily lays them out in a row along the table. The recessed ceiling bulbs strike brilliants from the thumb-sized silver cases.
“These I’m interested in.”
“They’re twenty-euro pilgrim curios,” Topaloğlu says.
“To you, Mr. Topaloğlu. To me, and to the people who collect them, they’re stories.” She taps the cover of a twentieth-century electroplate silver case, the crystal magnifier an eye, a good-luck boncuk charm. “A boy goes off to military service; despite her best efforts his mother can’t get him into a soft option like the jandarmeri or the tourist police, so gives him a Holy Koran. Keep the word of God close and God will keep you folded into his breast.” An early nineteenth-century gold shell case, exquisitely filigreed. “A merchant from Konya, after years building up his material goods, finally frees himself from his worldly obligations to undertake the Hac. His concubine gives him a keepsake. Remember, the world will be waiting.”
“How can you tell it’s a Konya piece?”
“It’s in the Mevlevi style, but it’s not a souvenir from the Rumi pilgrimage—those usually are cheap mass-produced tourist junk. This is altogether a much more fine work. There’s money and devotion here. Once you learn to see, you begin to hear the stories.”Ayşe rests her finger on a tiny silver Koran no larger than a thumb, delicate as a prayer. “This is eighteenth-century Persian. But there’s only half a Koran. A Holy Koran, divided?” She opens the case and sets the little Persian scripture in the palm of her hand. “What’s the story there? A promise made, a couple divided, a family at war with itself, a pledge, a contract? You want to know. That’s the market. The Korans, as you say, are trinkets. Stories; people will always buy those.” Ayşe sets the tiny hemi-Koran back into its case. “I’ll take these three. The rest is rubbish. Fifty euro each.”
“I was thinking three hundred would be more appropriate.”
“Did I hear you say that they were only twenty-euro pilgrim curios? Two hundred.”
Topaloğlu shakes on two hundred.
“Hafize will arrange payment. You can bring me more of these. Then we’ll see about the miniatures.”
Topaloğlu almost bares his rural teeth in a smile.
“Good to do business, Mrs. Erkoç.”
Footsteps on the stairs and along the wooden gallery; Hafize’s heels.
Modest headscarf and fashion heels. A tap at the door. The look on her face is part puzzlement, part suspicion.
“Madam, a customer.”
“I’ll see him. Could you deal with Mr. Topaloğlu? We’ve settled at two hundred euro for these three.”
“Cash,” Topaloğlu says. Hafize will screw another 20 percent off the price; her “administration fee.” For a young woman with aspirations to respectability, she’s as tough a bargainer as any street seller spreading his knockoff football shirts on the quay at Eminönü.
From the encircling balcony Ayşe looks down into the old semahane, the dance floor where in another age dervishes spun themselves into the ecstasy of God. A man bends over a case of Torahs. The great brass chandelier hides him, but Ayşe catches a ripple of gloss, like oil sheen in an Eskiköy puddle, across his back. Nanoweave fabric. Expensive suit.
As Ayşe descends the stairs Adnan warbles a video clip onto her ceptep. She glimpses wide Bosphorus, a white boat at a jetty, dipping gulls, a slow pan along the strait to the bridge. A gas tanker passes. So Adnan lets the camera linger on the gas tanker. His palace, his dream, when he closes Turquoise. Still the wrong side of the Bosphorus, Anatolian boy. She needs to get back to Europe.
“I am Ayşe Erkoç.”
The customer takes her proffered hand. Electronic business cards crackle from palm to palm.
“Haydar Akgün. I was just looking at your Jewish manuscripts. There is some very fine micrography here.” Moiré patterns, blacker on black, mesh across the fabric of his suit. Silver at his cuffs. Ayşe admires silver. There is restraint in silver.
“It’s actually double micrography. If you look closely you’ll see there is calligraphy within the calligraphy.”
Akgün bends closer to the page. He blinks up his ceptep. Lasers dance across his eye, drawing a magnified image on the retina. The folio is from a Pentateuch, the panel of lettering set within a decorative frame of twining flower stems, trellises and fantastical heraldic beasts, dragon-headed, serpenttailed. The decoration teases the eye; the look beyond the surface dazzle shows the outlines to be made up of minuscule writing. It is only under magnification that the second level of micrography appears: those letters are in turn made up of chains of smaller writing. Akgün’s eyes widen.
“This is quite extraordinary. I’ve only seen this in two places before. One was a dealer in Paris; the other was in a codex in the British Library. Sephardic, I presume? Spanish, Portuguese?”
“You’re correct on Portuguese. The family fled from Porto to Constantinople in the fifteenth century. The micrographic border is a genealogy of King David from the book of Ruth.”
“Exceptional,” Akgün says, poring over the weave of calligraphy.
“Thank you,” Ayşe says. It is one of her most adored pieces. It took a lot of discreet envelopes of euro to get it away from the police art crime department. The moment her police contact showed the Pentateuch to her, she had to possess it. For others it might be the prestige they could garner, the thrill of control, the money they could make. With Ayşe it was the beauty, that cursive of beauty spiralling through Aramaic and Syriac texts to the demotic Greek of the Oxyrhynchus, the painstakingly squared-off Hebrew of the Talmudic scholars of Lisbon and Milan, the divine calligraphy of the Koranic scribes of Baghdad and Fes and learned Granada. It flowed into the organic lines of gospel illumination from monasteries from St. Catherine’s to Cluny, in the eternal light of Greek and Armenian icons, through the hair-fine, eye-blinding detail of the Persian miniaturist to the burning line of Blake’s fires of Imagination. Why deal in beauty, but for beauty?
“You wonder how far down it can go, writing within writing within writing within writing,” Akgün says. “Nanography, perhaps? Do you think it could be like nanotechnology, the smaller it gets, the more powerful it becomes? Are there levels so fine we can’t read them but which have the most profound, subliminal influences?”
Ayşe glances up to the balcony where Hafize is guiding Topaloğlu to the back stairs down into the old tekke cemetery. She subtly unfolds three fingers. Thirty percent discount. Good girl. Gallery Erkoç needs every cent it can find.
“A nanography that slips into the brain and compels us to believe in God?”
“If anyone could it would be the Sephardim,” Ayşe says.
“Asubtle people,”Akgün says. He unbends from the codex. “They say you can get hard-to-find items.”
“One should always take the praise of one’s rivals with a pinch of salt, but I do have a certain . . . facility. Is there a particular piece you’re looking for? I have private viewing facilities upstairs.”
“I think it’s unlikely you’d have it in stock. It is a very rare, very precious item, and if it can be found anywhere it will be in Istanbul, but if you can source it for me I will pay you one million euro.”
Ayşe has often wondered how she would feel if a life-transfiguring sum of money walked into her gallery. Adnan talks of the fist-solid thrill of the leveraged millions of his gas trades solidifying into profit. Don’t let it seduce you, he says. That way is death. Now a thousand-euro suit offers her a million euro on a Monday morning, how could she not be seduced?
“That’s a lot of money, Mr. Akgün.”
“It is, and I wouldn’t expect you to embark on such a project without a development fee.”
He takes a white envelope from inside his jacket and gives it to Ayşe. It’s fat with cash. She holds the envelope in her hand and orders her fingers not to feel out the thickness and number of the notes.
“You still haven’t told me what you’d like me to find.”
Hafize has returned from exitingMr. Topaloğlu. Her customary haste to make tea—tea for every customer, tea, tea—is frozen by those words, one million euro.
“It’s quite simple,” Akgün says. “I want to buy a Mellified Man.”
Leyla on the Number 19, wedged hard against the stanchion in her good going-to-interview suit and business heels. Her chin is almost on the breastbone of a tall foreign youth who smells of milk; behind her is a fat middle-aged man whose hand keeps falling under social gravity to her ass. What is keeping the tram? Five minutes ago it jolted to a stop dead in the middle of the Necatibey Cadessi. Doesn’t IETT know she has an interview to get to? And it’s hot, getting hotter. And she’s sweating in her one and only going-to-interview suit.
The driver announces an incident on the line ahead. That usually means a suicide. In Istanbul the preferred self-exit-strategy is the dark lure of the Bosphorus, but a simple kneel and prostration of the head to the guillotine of the wheels will do it quick and smart. Down in Demre, where the sun glints bright from the endless polytunnel roofs, it was always the hose pipe through the car window.
“There’s been a bomb!” shrieks a woman in a better business suit than Leyla’s. There is a ceptep over her eye; she is reading the morning headlines. “A bomb on a tram.”
The effect on the Number 19 is total. The sudden surge of commuters lifts little Leyla Gültaşli from her feet and swings her so hard into wandering-handman that he grunts. People push at the doors, but they remain sealed. Now everyone is thrown again as the tram lurches into motion. It’s going backwards. Wheels grind and flange on the track.
“Hey hey, I’ve got an interview!” Leyla shouts.
The tram jolts to a stop. The doors open. The crowd pushes her out onto the same halt at which she boarded. She has thirty-five minutes to get to this interview. Her shoes are trampled and her suit is rumpled and her hair is ruffled and she is lathered in sweat but her face is right, so she puts her head down and pushes out through the turnstile into the traffic.
Leyla had organised the interview preparations like a wedding. With the hot night greying into day outside her balcony she was striding around in her underwear, unfolding the ironing board, flicking water over her one good suit and blouse as she applied the hot metal. She has got into terrible habits since Zehra announced she was moving back to Antalya. While the suit relaxed on the hanger, losing the just-ironed smell of fabric conditioner, she showered. The water was as mean and fitful as ever. Leyla wove and shimmied under the ribbon of tepid water. Seventy seconds, including shampoo. No more. The landlord last week had slipped a leaflet under every door explaining that the municipal water charges were going up again. Unquenchable Istanbul. The hair straighteners were already plugged in and coming up to temperature. Leyla Gültaşli got jiggly with the hair dryer and went over her pitch.
Gençler Toys. Toys for boys. Six- to eleven-year-olds. Lead lines: Battle-Cats TM; Gü-Yen-Ji, their ceptep-handshake trading card game, was EU Toy of the Year two years ago. Their success is built on BitBots. The creepy kid upstairs has them. Leyla’s sure he watches her with them. But they have a vacancy in their marketing department and Leyla is Marketing Girl, so she’ll talk BitBots and BattleCats TM as good as any of them.
The suit, then the slap. One hour twenty to get to Gençler. Plenty of time. Bag; a good brand not so high-marque as to be obviously a fake. Which it is. A girl of business needs one convincing accessory in her wardrobe. And the shoes and out.
Twenty-two minutes now, and she curses herself for not thinking to wear trainers. Put the good shoes in the bag and change in the ladies room when you’re making the final adjustments to your face. She can run—just—in these shoes. But the crowd is growing thicker on Necatibey Cadessi, and now she hits the police line, and before her is the tram with its windows blown out and its roof bowed up and people standing around among the crisis vehicles with their red-and-blue flashing lights. The road is sealed. Leyla gives a cry of frustration.
“Let me through let me through!”
A policeman shouts, “Hey, where do you think you’re going?” but Leyla plunges on. “Hey!” To her left is a narrow sok, more stairs than is sensible in this heat and these shoes. Fifteen minutes. Leyla Gültaşli takes a deep breath, slings her bag over her shoulder, and begins to climb.
Once there were four girls from the south. They were all born within fifty kilometres of each other within the smell of the sea, but they didn’t discover that until the dervish house. The condition of Leyla moving from the plasticland of Demre to Istanbul was that she place herself under the care of Great-Aunt Sezen. Leyla had never met Great-Aunt Sezen or any of the distant Istanbul side of the family. Their third-floor apartment in the sound-footprint of Atatürk Airport had a Turkish flag draped over the balcony and a Honda engine under the kitchen table and was full of noisy, clattering relations and generations over whom Great-Aunt Sezen, a matriarch of seventy-something, ruled by hint and dint and tilt of head. The country girl from the Med found herself plunged into an involuntary soap opera of husbands and wives and children, of boyfriends and girlfriends and partners and rivals and feuds and makings-up, of screaming fights and tearful, sex-raucous reconciliations. In the midst of this storm of emotions Leyla Gültaşli tried to work, seated at the kitchen table, her knees oily from the manifold of the Honda engine while her extended family raged around her. They thought her dull. They called her Little Tomato, after her hometown’s most famous export. That and Santa, its other global brand. Her studies suffered. She began to fail course elements.
She went to Sub-Aunt Kevser, grand vizier of the Gültaşlis, who called Leyla’s mother in Demre. The two women talked for an hour. It was decided. Leyla could share an apartment with suitable girls, provided she report to Sub-Aunt Kevser every Friday. No boys of course. There was a respectable girl from Antalya at the Business College who had a place, very central, very good value, in Beyoğlu. So Leyla entered the dervish house and discovered that it was central because it was tatty, sorrowful Eskiköy and good value because the apartment had not been renovated since the declaration of the Republic a century ago. Among three Marketing and Business students, Leyla had even less peace than she ever knew in Honda kitchen. They still called her Little Tomato. She liked it from the girls. Sub-Aunt Kevser called faithfully every Friday. Leyla answered as conscientiously. After two years she graduated with honours. Her parents came up on the bus for her graduation. The Istanbul branch moved family members around rooms like tiles in some plastic game to find space for the Demre tomato-growers in Runway View Apartments. Her mother clung to her father throughout the event at the campus. They gave her gold and had their eyes closed in every single photograph.
So: these four girls from the south who shared a small smelly apartment in Adem Dede tekke. They all graduated from Marmara Business College on the same day. Then one went to Frankfurt to work in an investment bank. One moved out to a Big Box start-up on a bare hill outside Ankara. Five weeks ago the third one announced she was moving back to Antalya to marry a hitherto-unsuspected boyfriend, and Leyla was left friendless, cashless and jobless in the crumbling old dervish house, the only one not to have secured some shape of future. Istanbul was overcommodified with bright young girls with diplomas in marketing. Day by day, bill by bill, the money was running down, but one thing was sure: she was never moving back to that apartment full of screaming lives and jet engines.
Leyla’s counting the steps: thirty-one thirty-two thirty-three. The lie of the streets is familiar: there’s the end of Vermilion-Maker Lane. She’s within a couple of hundred metres of home. She could slip back for comfortable shoes. Twelve minutes. If she can get up onto Inönü Cadessi there are buses and dolmuşes and even, though they would consume the last of her cash, taxis, but it all has to connect sweet, and this is Istanbul. Her fingers shake from exertion. There is a humming in her ears. God, she is so unfit. Too many nights in front of the television because it is voices and lives in the apartment. Then Leyla realises it’s not the thrum of her own body. This is something outside her. She is fogged in a cloud of mosquitoes. She waves her hand at the swarm—shoo, evil things. The bulge of black sways away from her hand and thickens into a hovering dragonfly. Her breath catches in fear. Even Leyla Gültaşli has heard of these things. Up and down Vermilion-Maker Lane morning people stand in place while the dragonfly bots ascertain identities. The machine hovers on its ducted-fan wings. Hurry up hurry up hurry up. She’s got an interview in ten minutes, minutes ten. Leyla could crush the thing in her hand and be on her way, but it scares her. Soldiers you can flash eyes at, flirt a little to make their day and they’ll nod you on. Soldiers are men. These things carry poison darts, she’s heard, evil little nanotechnology stings. Defy them at your peril. But it’s slow slow slow and she’s late late late. She blinks at a wink of laser light: the security drone is reading her iris. The dragonfly bot lifts on its wings, then blows into a puff of mites. On your way now. Up and down the stairs, along Vermilion-Maker Lane, the dragonflies evaporate into smart smoke. She’s passed, but she’s horribly hideously fatally late.
All the traffic that has been diverted from the bomb blast has been pushed onto Inönü Cadessi. Leyla wails at the immobile mass of vehicles, nose to tail, door to door. Horns blare constantly. She squeezes between the stationary cars. A little bubble citi-car rocks to a sudden stop and Leyla shimmies in front of it. The driver beats his hand on the horn, but she sashays away with a cheeky wave of the hand. There’s a bus there’s a bus there’s a bus. She dances a deadly bullfighter’s dance through the pressing traffic, closer, ever closer to the bus. The line of passengers is getting shorter. The doors are closing. Damn these stupid shoes, what possessed her to put them on? Men never look at shoes. The bus is pulling away from the stop, but she can make it she can make it. Leyla beats on the door. Two schoolboys leer at her. She runs alongside the crawling bus, banging on the side. “Stop stop stop stop!” Then a gap opens in front of it and it surges away from her in an aromatic waft of biodiesel. Leyla stands and curses, the traffic steering around her; good, long, southern tomato-grower curses.
Dolmuş dolmuş dolmuş. There’s a cluster of them, slope-backed minibuses huddling together like pious women, but they’re too far down the street, too distant from the stop, and even if she could hail one it would have to travel at the speed of light to get there on time. Faster. Not even the Prophet on Burak could get to Gençler Toys in time for the interview. Leyla wails, throws up her arms in despair in the middle of gridlocked Inönü Cadessi. Her ceptep alert chimes to reinforce her failure. Out of time. Over. No point even calling. Istanbul is too too full of Leyla Gültaşlis.
“I could do that job!” she shouts to the street. “I could do that job easy!”
She’s sick to her stomach, sick in her suddenly stupid and vain suit and shoes, her cheap knockoff bag. She needs that job, she needs that money, she needs not to go back to Runway View Apartments, but most of all she needs never again to see the sun glinting from the endless kilometres of plastic roof over the fields and gardens of Demre and breathe in the cloying, narcotic perfume of tomatoes. Leyla is very close to crying in the middle of traffic-clogged Inönü Cadessi. This won’t do. She can’t be seen like this. Go home. Tomorrow you can pick yourself up and smarten yourself and get out there again and show them you’re good. Today, rage and cry and kick things around where no one can see you. Why why why did this have to be the day that a suicide bomber decided to blow himself up to God? It’s so selfish, like any suicide.
She is halfway down the steps toAdem Dede Square when her ceptep calls. Sub-Aunt Kevser. The last person she needs to talk to. Her thumb hovers over the reject icon. She can’t. You are always available. The mantra was drummed into her at business school.
“You took your time.” As ever when she talks with Leyla, she looks like a schoolteacher.
“I was just doing something.”
“Doing?” There’s always been the assumption that Leyla’s aspirations are dispensable. The women drop everything for the family: it was the way down in Demre; it’s the way up in Istanbul.
“It’s all right, nothing much.”
“Good good good. Remind me, what was that course you did?”
You know full well what I do, Leyla thinks. I can’t see her, but Great-Aunt Sezen is behind you directing this from her chair.
“Would that include raising finance and finding backers?”
Just tell me, you bad old crow.
Sub-Aunt Kevser continues, “Did you ever meet Yaşar Ceylan?”
“He’d be your second cousin. Smart boy. University educated.” Rub it in, sterile spinster. Yes, I only went to a business college. “He’s set up this new business start-up thing over in Fenerbahçe with some boy he did his doctorate with. I’ve no idea what it is; some new technology thing. Anyway, they’re very smart, very clever but useless at anything practical. Yaşar wants to expand but doesn’t know how to get to the people with the money. He needs someone to get him to the money men.”
You see, you knew all the time.
“When does he need someone?”
“Right away. But you said you were doing something, so I don’t know . . .”
“Has he got any money?” Ever the drawback to working with family.
“He’ll pay you. So you’ll do it?”
“I’ll do it. Give me his number.” Sub-Aunt Kevser’s face is replaced by a ceptep number. Leyla stores it quickly. God God thank you God. Sometimes family is your friend. She almost skips down the last few steps into Adem Dede Square. From desolation to ludicrous exultation in seven steps. Fenerbahçe. Business start-up. New tech. Fresh university graduates. It all means only one thing. The big one, the one that promises to build the future and change the world, the one where you can really make your name.
The alien robot is an ungainly spider thing concealed among the graphics of the Commerzbank. Can observes it from his hiding place in the shadows of Allianz Insurance. An ugly boxy yellow industrial unit; a Xu-Hsi, or maybe a customised General Robotics. Licence number covered up with gaffer tape. An inspection machine would carry warning chevrons and flashers. Can Durukan knows his robots like other kids know cars or footballers or Chinese comics. An industrial bot wouldn’t pay a wink of interest even if the world were ending down there. What else could it be? On his adventures high above Eskiköy Can has encountered photodrones: machines set wandering on month-long journeys across the city by art students to capture the random and spontaneous. Those pause, shoot, stalk on. He has also met unofficial press bots upon the rooftops: stealthy, secretive surveillers used by investigative journalists and photographers looking for the news behind the press releases. Ghost machines that can flash-burn their memories to slag if detected by the state and its agents. Everything deniable. If this is a press drone, the photographer’s timing is brilliant. Too brilliant. And then there are the black drones: the ones they like to mutter about on the conspiracy sites. Invisible to official police bots, surveilling the surveillers. If this clunky chunk of yellow plastic is a legendary black drone, it’s in some very deep cover altogether. And then hide the licence number? This is none of these. This is a proper mystery. Can’s monkey creeps closer, hand by careful hand, prehensile tail coiling and uncoiling, trying to see better without being seen. The mystery bot is scanning the bomb victims inside the police cordon. Its sensory arrays, clusters of fly-eye lenses, rotate and refocus from survivor to survivor. Click whir click whir. That woman with blood speckled all over her face like freckles. Those shivering children in blue with schoolbags so big they could fold themselves inside. That dazed-looking businessman clutching his briefcase. That man, wandering away from the main group, between the ambulances, not wanting to be seen. Can watches Rat-Face, the guy from the tekke garden, move slowly, mingle subtly, merge with the crowd beyond the Do Not Cross lines. So intently does Can watch, so tightly does he hold his breath in excitement, that he almost misses the ninja robot detach itself from its roost and slowly, subtly, with no sudden movements to catch the attention of the police bots, work its way up the stanchions to the roof of the Commerzbank building. He sees a flash of anonymised yellow vanish over the parapet. Hissing in frustration, Can willsMonkey up onto the roof of the Allianz building. There: the mystery surveiller is working along the building tops, following Necatibey Cadessi. Slowly, stealthily, Can follows. His eyes are wide, his tongue rolled in concentration, his heart loud with excitement. This is mystery. This is adventure. This is what every boy and his robot want.
“Aie!” Can stifles the involuntary cry of excitement. Too loud too loud; it’s far too easy to be too loud when the world is reduced to a whisper. But it’s a huge huge discovery. The rogue robot is following rat-face Necdet. Up in the balcony Can almost gibbers at the excitement. This isn’t just curiosity, or even a mystery anymore. This is a case. He is Can: Boy Detective now. The case is afoot!
Carefully carefully, with one half of his eyes on the stalker, the other half on the crazed, reeling guy down in the street, Can creeps across the rooftops of Beyoğlu. Release a hand here, take a grip there. Mystery bot is following Necdet, stoner-boy. Of all people to follow. Like the lizard stalking the hunting mantis feels the shadow of the hawk; it’s only Can’s overcompensating secondary senses, that instinctive knowing before knowing, that makes him stab his hand out and make Monkey roll forward, out of the pincer jaws that would have fried his BitBot circuitry with EMP.
As he was the follower, he too was followed. He reconfigures his eyes as he gallops away from the attacker. Another anonymous hack-drone. He has stumbled into the surveillance range of another watcher and triggered an alert. It’s big and it’s fast and it’s strong. It can take Can’s BitBots to pieces. It’s behind him, and Can’s power-management panel is telling him he is down to two-thirds battery power. He has to bringMonkey back, but it will lead the pursuer straight to him.
Run robot run. Monkey leap, monkey scuttle. Behind him, half a roof away, comes the destroyer. Can gasps in mental exertion and flexes his hand to send his monkey up a wall in two bounds, over a parapet and across a sheltered green-painted garden where morning washing hangs limply in the heat-weary air. The hunter follows. It’s bigger, faster and even closer. Can flicks a glance at the battery meter. Half charge now, and at this rate of exertion Monkey eats power. And leap. Even as Monkey is in midair Can reconfigures him into a ball. The BitBot hits and rolls, bounding from the air-conditioning fans and photosynth panels to crash hard against the farther parapet. The hunter bounds after him, crossing the roof in a few strides, but the BitBot has morphed back into Monkey mode and is hand-over-handing it down the fire escape for the leap to the roof of the adjoining building. Can has stolen a few dozen metres.
Can doesn’t hear the door open. Can doesn’t hear anything. The chase across the rooftops is silent. He only looks up from the robot-versus-robot action when light from the open door dazzles him. A shadow, a sun-blurred spindly alien-thing. His mum. She signs. Can frowns. He always sits facing the door so that he will know when someone comes in but also because the visitor can’t see what he is doing on his computer. Can isn’t allowed excitement. She would cry. Unable to shout or shake or strike, she’s forced into self-martyrdom. See how you’ve made me feel?
She signs again. Have you got a clean shirt for school this afternoon?
Can knows better than to nod. That would make her feel hurt because he was being rude and disrespectful. She might even ask what was so important he couldn’t talk to his mother. His hands can’t afford the time away from the screen but he signs: There’s one in the wardrobe.
Good, she says. The silhouette moves in the bright light as if to go, then turns back. What are you doing anyway?
Can’s heart flutters.
“Just playing with Monkey.” It’s no lie.
Well, just you don’t go annoying anyone with him, all right? Then she vanishes into the light and the door closes. Can lets out a hiss of concentration and bends over his roll-up screen. Speed power navigation security. A cat flees as Monkey and its hunter gallop across the rooftop and swing up a water-tank gantry onto the next roof. Distance five metres, power at 12 percent. Can wonders who is behind those insect eyes; what face lit by what screen.
Whoever you are, Can Durukan Boy Detective will amaze and bamboozle you! Can clenches his fist to summon the reserves from the batteries, then flings his hand open to send Monkey leaping high over the concrete coaming. The hunter-bot leaps after him. Got you! You thought there was a roof, but there is nothing but twenty metres of empty air. Can brings his hands together in a silent clap. Falling Monkey explodes into its component BitBots. Nanorobots rain down onto Vermilion-Maker Lane. Can crosses his thumbs and waggles his fingers. The cloud of mite-machines ripples, darkens into smoke and coalesces into a pair of gossamer wings. A bird; Can’s Bird. Power is critical, but Bird beats its wings, swoops over the heads of the men squatting on their tea-shop stools, so low they duck. Three beats four, and he pulls up out of Vermilion-Maker Lane. In his rearview camera he sees the hunting bot smashed like a porcelain crab on the cobbles. Shards and splinters and scraps of yellow shell. He turns over Adem Dede Square, a great white stork sliding home.
Can’s hands shake. There’s a tightness in the back of his throat and nose of wanting to cry, and he needs a pee. His heart thuds tight in his chest; his breath flutters in his throat; his face burns with excitement now that he realises he was in danger. While he was running it was a game—the best game he has ever played. Now he can think about what would have happened if the men behind the robot had followed him, had come to his door and knocked on it. Now he can be afraid. But he is proud; more proud of escaping the hunter than of anything he has ever done. He wants to tell people. But the kids in the special school are too stupid to understand or they have something very wrong with them. His parents: Can knows he would never crawl out from under his mother’s self-flagellation and his father’s silence.
Mr. Ferentinou. He will listen. He will know.What he doesn’t know he can guess, and his guesses are always right. He was famous for that, so he tells Can. Can Durukan goes to the edge of the balcony, peers into the brilliant morning breaking over Eskiköy and lifts a hand to catch Bird coming home.
You are a fine gentleman of Iskenderun, old Alexandretta, sometime in the middle decades of the eighteenth Christian century, a subject of Sultan Osman III. His empire has ebbed far from its zenith at the gates of Vienna. It is the magic blue hour of the house of Osmanli. All seems radiant and still and suspended as if it might carry on in this shell-like turquoise forever. But the night draws inexorably in. Imperial Constantinople may console itself in grand buildings of mosques and baths and imperial tombs, but Alexandretta is far from the Sublime Porte and feels the winds from the east and the north more closely. It has always been a cosmopolis of many races and confessions, where the trade routes from Central Asia meet the sea lanes from Italy and the far Atlantic. In those caravanserais and hans you made your wealth. In your prime you were a travelled man, west to Marseilles and Cadiz, east to Lahore and Samarkand; to the north,Moscow and, as befits a religious man once in his life, south to Mecca as a hacı. Now you are old; you have retired to your shaded house where the cool sea breeze brings news from the corners of the empire and the greater world beyond. The great age of peace and prosperity is ending. Your wife is dead these five years; your sons manage your interests, and your daughters are adequately married. Life’s obligations are fulfilled. It is time to leave. One morning you order your staff, Bring me a bowl of pine honey. You eat it all up with a silver spoon in a quiet room of your house that has no clocks. Again, for your midday meal: Bring me a bowl of pine honey. In the evening; a bowl of pine honey. Only honey.
By the third day of nothing but honey the servants have gossiped it abroad. By Friday prayers it is all across the city. Your many friends come to call, a river of them, for you are a household name in Alexandretta, but not before your sons and daughters. The women weep, the men ask, What possessed you to choose this bizarre act? You say, A tumour the size of a pomegranate. I can feel it inside me, it is months since I could enjoy a piss without pain. It would be the death of me and I can’t defeat that, but I can arrange a different appointment with Azrael. By now the servants have soaked the curtains in vinegar to keep the flies from you.
Doctors are called, European trained. They come from the room that now smells of sweet honey-sweat to tell the waiting sons and sons-in-laws that there is nothing they can do, that you are set upon this process and it will take its course. Not even the imam can sway you from what you have decided to become. It is unusual, but it has a long and noble history.
In the second week of your transformation you express a taste for exotic and rare honeys: the blends and the regionals, from the potent aphid-sucked honeydew of the fir forests of the Vosges and Southern Germany to the delicately floral Thousand Flower honey of Bordeaux. In the third week of your transfiguration you explore honeys of theft and peril: wild acacia honey of the savage hives of Africa, where the foragers have grown immune to stings that would kill lesser men; honey from the Sundarbans of Bengal, where tigers stalk the hive-hunters in the mangrove forests; the carob honeys from the bazaars of Fes, stolen in the high Atlas from legendary hives the size of houses. In your moments of lucidity between swimming in golden sugar hallucinations you realise that you are now the empire’s greatest connoisseur of honey and that this precious knowledge could easily pass from the world. You hire an amanuensis, a tarikat-trained boy of a good family and excellent calligraphy to write down your ravings on the honeys that your servants now drip by the spoonful onto your tongue. In the fourth week you explore the high paths of sweetness; the single-flower honeys. Such is your skill now that you can taste a single drop and say that is a myrrh honey from Arabia, that is a thyme honey from Cyprus, that is orange-blossom honey from Bulgaria and that, unmistakably, is cedar honey from the Levant. Beyond the borders of the empire you discover sleep-scented lavender honey from Spain and the cactus honey of Mexico. For two days you savour and describe the bitter, mentholic darkness of the Sardinian Corbozello honey made from the flowers of the wild arbutus. Over three days you are gripped in hallucinations of the rhododendron honey of the Himalayas. Towards the end there are days when you are lost entirely in the golden light that glows behind your permanently drawn blinds and you utter honey-prophecies and oozing sugar-visions, but when you ask your secretary to read your ravings back there is not one word written on his page. By now your pores exude not sweat but a gold-tinged ichor. Your urine is as sweet as a confection, your excrement a soft amber unguent. Honey permeates every vessel of your body; honey swaddles your organs and drips in oozing globules through the spaces of your brain.
The transition from waking world to dream, from dream to coma, and from coma to death is sweet, subtle and as slow as the fall of a tear of honey from a spoon. The doctor confirms with his little mirror that all breath has left your body. Your secretary stands shaking with hidden tears, clutching his treatise on honey as the blinds are thrown open. Your daughters are already keening; your sons have one last task to perform. The imam makes the consignment as the servants wash the corpse that smells of thyme and lavender, pine and myrrh and orange flower. Now your sons must work fast. The great stone coffin, an ancient pagan Roman thing, has already been filled with honey. Your body is slowly submerged in it; great bubbles rising slowly through the amber liquid as you sink. The lid is slid into position, and as it is sealed with lead the remaining spaces are filled with yet more honey poured through a hole bored through the mouth of the pagan goddess until a single drop of gold forms on her lips. Then that too is sealed with molten lead. Men and many horses—all the men of goodwill who knew you in life—carry you through the streets of Alexandretta to the warehouse where you have caused the grave to be dug. The marker is set in the place of the paving slab. It reads, Hacı Ferhat, 1191–1268—and a second date: Berat Kandili 1450.
Every trade has its fabled beasts, its rocs and Cyclops and djinni that can whisk you from the dome of Baghdad to Samarkand in a thought. Lawyers have monster murderers and celebrity defendants who defamed Turkishness or merely pulled off a breathtaking scam. Traders have their stellar players who read the market in one moment of piercing insight and made unimaginable fortunes. The media is rife with the vices of actors and the eccentricities of editors, producers and directors. Musicians’ whims and contract riders are legendary. The neglected, dusty corner of antiquarians and manuscript dealers is no different. There are its grails, its lost codices, forbidden grimoires and Hands of Glory and, stalking the honeyed path between them, the Mellified Man.
They are creatures of antiquarians’ legends, Mellified Men. Once in a lifetime one may turn up in the vast bazaars of Damascus or Cairo, walking out of a remote and alien history. They command fearful prices, insane money, for they are the embodiment of powerful magics. Even the djinn respect a Mellified Man. At the due date on the tombstone the casket is unsealed. When the lid is removed what remains is a human confection. Honey suffuses every channel and organ; honey fuses with flesh; honey permeates every cell. Sugar is a powerful preservative and antibacterial. The unfamiliar sun turns the thing in the coffin to gold. Now the Mellified Man’s true work begins.
The body is broken up into pieces the size of a cube of baklava. These are applied to cure all manners of ill and wounds. The flesh of a Mellified Man, soft as semolina halva, has the power to cure diseases, heal wounds, mend broken bones. Smeared on the eyelids it melts away cataracts; it can restore hearing to deaf ears. Spread on the genitals, it renews potency. Taken internally is the most efficacious method. A tiny dose melted on the tongue will dissolve cancers, clear phlegm from clogged lungs, refresh the great organs, stoke up cooling digestive fires, eradicate any stone or gall or ulcer. Even the hair from the mummy’s head, thick and syrupy as a strand of kedayıf pastry, is a famous cure for baldness.
“You don’t work for any length of time in this business without someone boasting that they’ve seen a Mellified Man,” Ayşe says. She is very aware of her own breathing. “And I am aware that they’re more than just legends, but in my experience they were strictly medieval.” A void has opened in the sanity of things, and she teeters on the brink. The Persian miniatures of Belkis and the Prophet that line the walls swirl without ever changing position. This is an echo of the age of miracles in this third decade of the twenty-first century. But if there is one place where a Mellified Man could walk out of magical time, where the fantastical and the mundane routinely come into contact, where the djinn touch toe to earth, it is surely Istanbul.
“Oh no no no,” says Akgün. In the private viewing room Ayşe can closely study her guest. The nanoweave fabric of his suit has closed in the air-conditioned cool, and his clothing shimmers like Damascus steel. The watch is high-marque, the manicure exquisite from the tips of his nails to his cufflinks. The shave is business-close, but there is something about the man that does not smell right. His cologne is Arslan. Even an ultra Cimbom fan like Adnan would never wear an aroma branded for a Galatasaray striker. “People put too much faith in Li Shizhen’s account. There is good evidence that a Mellified Man was sold in Tashkent to traditional Chinese medical practitioners as recently as 1912.”
“Yes, but that’s a long way from an eighteenth-century Mellified Man from Alexandretta.”
“You are absolutely right to be sceptical. That’s why I’ve brought provenances.” Inside the impact-carbon briefcase is another, in supple honey-coloured leather. It would not surprise Ayşe if it were human skin. It carries a small tulip-shaped tattoo. Her scanners tell her the mark is a blossom of tracker molecules. Within the case is a waxed-paper wallet, within that the folio itself, leather bound with an ornate rosette in gold leaf set on a medallion on the cover.
Akgün slides the book across the table. It lies beside the envelope of cash. Ayşe wills down the lights as she studies the binding. The stitching seems authentic, strong linen thread; the header tapes of their time. Dust falls from the right places and the leather smells of old skin and is creased where a book should be, like a face lined with experience. It crackles as Ayşe opens it. Inside is in the swift, clear Sumbuli script of a lad who has transcribed the Holy Koran from memory, setting down the thoughts of God as they form in his memory like water welling from a spring.
Heather honey, from the uplands of the barbarous realm of Scotland that comprises the northernmost part of the island of Britain. Heather is a small ground-covering plant, with springy woody boughs and small, thyme-like leaves which commonly grows on the sides of the hills and mountains that characterise that country. Trees are almost entirely unknown in upland Scotland due to the proximity of the pole and the general inclemency of the weather, which is of a wet, gloomy and sunless nature and of a boggy disposition.
“On a cursory inspection it looks authentic, but we are the world capital of fakery. To be sure I’d need to carry out a molecular analysis,” Ayşe says. The small room is filled with the cedary perfume of an old book opened to the light. Smell is the djinni of memory; all times are one to it. As she pores over the book, her eyewriter scanning the calligraphy, Ayşe is simultaneously in her grandfather’s bookstore in Sirkeci that rambled through a series of seemingly arbitrarily connected rooms (were they in different cities, different ages, different universes?), the books becoming older and more compressed the deeper and darker you went, like a geology of words. As a nine-year-old she would close her eyes and wander surely through the warren, guided by the sharp, spicy ketones and esters of modern pulps and A-format paperbacks through the teetering towers of remaindered hardbacks and the glossy, oily tang of coffee table books to the musks and spices of the antiquarian volumes on their sagging shelves, many of which were written in letters she could not understand and that read the wrong way. Understanding did not matter;Ayşe could wander, entranced, for hours along the lines of Arabic cursive. Often it was enough to stand, eyes firmly shut, under the little coloured mosque lamps with their low-voltage bulbs and breathe in the perfume of history, the pheromones of the dead. “It would involve destroying a small sample.”
Akgün’s shock is genuine. Here is a man who knows and loves books, Ayşe thinks. And cannot countenance any violence to them. He would return borrowed paperbacks on time, their spines uncracked, the covers of their corners unfoxed. But he doesn’t know that with modern nano-assay chips the clipping is a few fibres of paper, a few molecules of ink. That he doesn’t know that is another circling suspicion. After the adrenaline always comes clarity and judgment. A Mellified Man: the blood burns, the brain blazes at even the possibility of it being true. But like djinn in a house, her doubts will not be driven out: of all the shops of all the dealers and all the antiquarians in all of Istanbul, why this shop, this dealer? The world is simple, but it is never neat. This man in the right suit and the wrong aftershave is too neat. Ayşe Erkoç closes the book and slides the envelope of five-hundred-euro notes across the table.
“You tempt me but I can’t take this commission.”
“May I ask why?”
“You said I can obtain hard-to-get items; that’s because I’ve built up a network of dealers and antiquarians and experts. I’ve built it up by word of mouth. I guard it very jealously. This is a very small business. Everyone knows everyone else and rumour moves like wildfire. You live or you die by reputation. When word got around that Ünal Bey was passing Kazakhstani fakes off as Timurid miniatures he was shunned. Two weeks later he drove his car through the crash barrier of the Bosphorus Bridge in shame. Maybe you heard about it on the news? I know my suppliers and my agents and I know my clients—many of them are very wealthy and influential men, but everything is done by personal recommendation. Now, I have no doubts that your provenances are genuine and that this Alexandretta mummy has washed up in Istanbul, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very very tempted. But there’s an etiquette in this business. I am very sorry, Mr. Akgün.”
He chews his lower lip, flicks his head.
“You have my card.” He straightens the cuffs of his shirt. “I hope you’ll reconsider.”
“Trust me, nothing would give me more pleasure than to track down a Mellified Man,” says Ayşe. She extends a hand. Akgün’s grasp is firm and dry. No spark of data between them. She waits on the balcony as Akgün descends the stairs. Hafize’s eyes are wide and her hands spread in astonishment as the street door closes behind him. She has been watching, as she always watches, the deal on the security cameras. Her hands say, You turned down a million euro?
Yes, Ayşe will tell her when Akgün is gone. You didn’t smell his aftershave.
His was love in a time of military rule. It was the late summer when Georgios Ferentinou looked up from the beautiful abstract weave of statistical regressions and complexity algorithms and saw the tumbling curling hair and magnificent sullen cheekbones of Ariana Sinanidis across Meryem Nasi’s pool. A fresh and zealous undergraduate, he had been engaged in a season-long combative correspondence with a New York–based Lebanese economist. Georgios’s enemy argued that random events beyond the predictions of theory shaped the world. People and lives bobbed in a storm of probability. Georgios argued back that complexity theory folded the spikes and pits of randomness back into the everyday, the humdrum. All storms whimper out in the end. That summer they argued across the Atlantic by flimsy blue airmail while in Istanbul demonstrators marched and protestors rallied and political parties formed and drew up manifestos and made alliances and schismed into new parties and bombs went off in Istiklal Cadessi litter bins. In Ankara generals and admirals and jandarmeri commanders met in each other’s houses. In the university library Georgios Ferentinou—thin and lithe and luminous-eyed as a deer—worked on, as oblivious to the deteriorating political climate as to the season.
Then the invitation came to Meryem’s party. Meryem Nasi was as close as modern Istanbul came to aristocracy, of an intellectual Jewish family that claimed to have lived by the Bosphorus since the Diaspora. Of no special gift herself, she was hopelessly attracted to talented people. She collected them. She enjoyed bringing disparate, even antagonistic talents together to see if they would achieve a critical mass, if they would fuse or fission or generate some other burst of creative energy.
“If there is one thing will kill Turkey,” she would say, “it is a famine of ideas.”
No one in her coterie dared mention that if anything was killing Turkey it was a surfeit of ideas, too many political visions and ideologies. But the head of the school of economics did mention a particularly bright and aggressive undergraduate who was fighting a ridiculous but valorous battle against an American academic of ten times his experience and a hundred times his reputation. Three days later the invitation arrived on Georgios Ferentinou’s desk. Not even his unworldliness could ignore a summons from Meryem Nasi. So he found himself stiff as a wire in a hired suit and cheap shoes clutching a glass on her Yeniköy terrace, grimacing nervously at anyone who moved through his personal space.
“Darling, there’s someone I want you to meet.” Meryem was a short, big-haired, gravel-voiced fifty-something in shoulderpads and wasp-waist jacket, but she seized Georgios Ferentinou by the arm like a wrestler and hauled him to the group of men by the pool steps. “This is Sabri Iliç from Hürriyet, Aziz Albayrak from the State Planning Organisation, and Arif Hikmet from the faculty you already know. This is Georgios Ferentinou; he’s the bad boy’s been baiting Nabi Nassim at Columbia.”
In the warmth of an early September evening their talk turned to the oil crisis of the previous winter when old women froze in their apartments in Istanbul. Stammering at first in such prodigious company, Georgios suggested that a more secure energy future could be fuelled by natural gas. It was less subject to the political price fluctuations of OPEC, the TransCaspian area had so much of it they burned it off in tail flares, and it would hook Turkey back into its traditional hinterland of the Caucasus. Arif Hikmet, with a wink to his student, said that the Americans would not look well on their prime security partner in the Middle East tying itself to its ideological enemy for energy policy. Sabri Iliç, Hürriyet’s new business editor, commented that it was the Americans who had driven the oil prices up in the first place. Aziz Albayrak from Ankara maintained that Turkey must always look west, not north, to the EEC, not the USSR. Georgios was nineteen years old in a funeral suit and bad shoes, and people whose opinions shaped the nation nodded when he spoke. He felt weightless, filled with light ready to burst from every pore, giddy with intellectual excitement yet at the same time assured and controlled. He could trust his mouth not to open and scuttle him. Now they were energetically debating the ongoing effects of the lira’s evaluation and convertibility; how it opened the Central Bank to international markets and investors but also made it vulnerable to currency speculators. What did Georgios Bey think? Georgios Bey had been glancing away from the debate for a moment, but in that moment a woman in equally rapt conversation across the pool also looked away. Their eyes met. That look wiped away all thought. Georgios Ferentinou was struck by the lightning of his oldest gods. Her gaze moved on; the moment was gone. She returned to her conversation, but he was lost. With the skill of an academic son used to studying between television, blaring radio, shouts and calls and raucous animated conversations, he screened out his own party and tuned, like a radio telescope eavesdropping on a distant and radiant star, to hers. She was talking politics with a group of entranced men, sitting around on the marble poolside benches like the demos of ancient Athens. She was theorising on the Deep State: that enduring Turkish paranoia that the nation really was a conspiracy run by a cabal of generals, judges, industrialists and gangsters. The Taksim Square massacre of three years before, the Kahramanmaraş slaughter of Alevis a few months after, the oil crisis and the enduring economic instability, even the ubiquity of the Grey Wolves nationalist youth movements handing out their patriotic leaflets and defiling Greek Churches—all were links in an accelerating chain of events running through the fingers of the Derin Devlet. To what end? the men asked. Coup, she said, leaning forward, her fingers pursed. It was then that Georgios Ferentinou adored her. The classic profile, the strength of her jaw and fine cheekbones. The way she shook her head when the men disagreed with her, how her bobbed, curling hair swayed. The way she would not argue but set her lips and stare, as if their stupidity was a stubborn offence against nature. Her animation in argument balanced against her marvellous stillness when listening, considering, drawing up a new answer. How she paused, feeling the regard of another, then turned to Georgios and smiled.
In the late summer of 1980 Georgios Ferentinou fell in love with Ariana Sinanidis by Meryem Nasi’s swimming pool. Three days later, on September 12, Chief of General Staff Kenan Evren overthrew the government and banned all political activity.
Now Ariana is back in this tangle of streets, on this square beneath him. He tries to imagine how time might engrain itself in her face, deepening lines, accentuating her sharp features, adding shadows. She would not have coarsened, grown gross like him. She would always move like a muse. Why has she come back? He’s old; it’s been forty-seven years. Dare he seek her out?
All minorities possess a sense for being watched. Georgios turns slowly in the creaking chair. The snake clings to the wall, fixing Georgios in its jewel-bright eyes. Georgios Ferentinou nods to the watching robot and lumbers down the stairs to his library. He is so stiff today. The machine slides ahead of him along the wall.
That same old Fener-Greek instinct introduced Georgios to neighbour Can Durukan. Poring over his smart-paper screen one winter afternoon with the Karayel, the Black Wind, seeking out the gaps in the window frame, a prickle on the back of his neck had made him look up. There, a tiny watcher tucked into the carved wooden fitting for the chandelier. He stood up on his chair to peer at it and the thing dropped to the floor and made a break for the door. But Georgios was in the heart of his demesne. In a thought he whipped his jacket from the back of his chair and flung it over the scuttling thing. He snatched it up, only to drop the jacket, startled. It squirmed and boiled as if infested. A swarm of tiny spider robots scattered in every direction. Georgios shook his head with wonder. As the last spider headed for the gap at the bottom of the library door he grabbed a glass and brought it down over the device. “I’ve got you!”
An hour later came the knock on his apartment door.
“Come on in,” he said. “I think I have something of yours.” The boy frowned, leaned forward. Of course. The heart condition. Like every other occupant of the dervish house Georgios received a note under the door every New Year reminding him to avoid rows, heavy footwear, power tools, excessive thumping or dropping heavy pans and keep the volume on his music and television down. It was twenty years since Georgios Ferentinou kept anything heavier than a kettle for tea in his cramped kitchen and, unusually for a mathematician, he had no ear for music. It’s down in the library, he wrote in propelling pencil on the wall by the door. The boy goggled at such nonchalant vandalism.
“This is a library?” Can said in his too-loud, flat voice. He stared around at the simple whitewashed dervish cell with its single brass lamp and small, shuttered window. “The woman downstairs has hundreds and hundreds of books.”
But those are not books for reading, Georgios wrote on the smartpaper sheet on the old Ottoman desk. A library full of books that are never read is not a library. He let the words erase themselves, letter by letter. This library has only one book, but it is every book in the world.
He set the BitBot under the upturned tea glass in which he had imprisoned it on the desk. He wrote, This is clever technology. He gestured for Can to lift the glass. The little robot ran up the boy’s forefinger, under the sleeve of his T-shirt to curl in the hair at his temple. It could be so much more than just a toy.
“What do you mean?”
We could reprogramme it. Make it do really interesting things.
Can blinked twice at him.
“I have to go now. My mum will wonder where I am. She wouldn’t like it if she knew I’d been to see you. She thinks you’re a paedo. I know you’re not but I’m still going.”
Come back, Georgios thought at the closing door. Can did return the next day, Monkey riding on his shoulder. The slow, careful education began.
In a different season of another year Can waits in the Library of All Books. He beckons. Snake scurries across the ceiling and drops. In midair it breaks into its component mites; then the cloud of microrobots reconfigure into Bird. It flies up to perch on his shoulder. Can carefully carefully removes the plugs from his ears. Georgios always holds his breath as Can extracts the delicate technology. He seems not himself today. He fidgets; his face is flushed. Georgios makes tea. Two glasses, two saucers, two spoons. Man to man across the tiny white table.
“Mr. Ferentinou, I went to look at the bomb. You know, down on Necatibey Cadessi.” Georgios stirs the lazy sugar crystals in the bottom of his glass. Can’s small world is full of big stories. Can continues in his slightly-too-loud voice, “I hid up on the front of the Allianz building, and there was another robot on the building next door, hiding like me. I thought it was watching the bomb, but it wasn’t. It was watching the people, the ones caught on the tram. It looked at all of them, and then it followed one. Mr. Ferentinou, it was following Mr. Hasgüler from downstairs.”
“Ismet?” Georgios fears Shaykh Ismet. He is the antithesis of his life.
“No, the other one.”
“Necdet. I didn’t know that Necdet had been caught in the bombing, but why would anyone be interested in him?”
“Well, it was following him; and it wasn’t the only one. There was another robot: I didn’t see it, but it saw me. It came right up behind me, and it would have had me if Monkey hadn’t jumped just in time. It chased me, Mr. Ferentinou.”
“Over the roofs. It was scary but really brilliant. It was big and fast. But it wasn’t as clever. I did this trick I’ve been practising where I jump and morph into Bird in midair. It thought there was another roof there. It fell and smashed. Just out beside Kenan’s.”
Georgios Ferentinou’s spoon slips from his fingers and takes a quadrant off the fragile, tulip-shaped tea glass. The tea floods the table. He will clean it up later.
“It knows where you live?”
“No, like I said, I tricked it and killed it.”
“Just outside Kenan’s, you say? I wouldn’t mind taking a look at that.”
Can is on his air-soled feet, Snake riding his shoulder like a wave. Georgios points him back down into his seat.
“You stay there. Whoever sent it could have come looking for it. I don’t think these people should know that you live here.”
“Do you think it’s a conspiracy?”
“Mr. Durukan, if God is dead then everything is conspiracy.”
Can presses his forehead against the window of the tiny tearoom. Mr. Ferentinou waddles painfully down the steps, greets Bülent and Aydin the simit seller and pokes around behind the Coke machine outside Kenan’s. Right to your right, Can mouths at him, mutely waving him toward the street door. There there, right there! Georgios Ferentinou prods and pokes, hunkers down, face red like it could explode. He opens his hands in a gesture of incomprehension. Nothing.
“There was a robot, there really was, it really chased me and I did kill it,” Can says on Mr. Ferentinou’s return.
“Oh I believe you,” Georgios says. “They’ve already taken it away. They will have video footage of your robots. And, if for some reason they are interested in Mr. Hasgüler, they will come back to this dervish house.”
“But then if they’re watching that Necdet guy, then I could watch them.”
“Mr. Durukan, I think you and your robots should keep a low profile.”
“But I know places in this building that no one else does. I know all the secret places. No will ever find me.” I watch you, Can thinks. I watch that Leyla girl, the one who watches too much television too and she never knows. I watch everyone.
“I forbid it. I would be very angry if I thought you were doing that.”
“But it’s a conspiracy, only it’s on my own doorstep. It’s cool. A real conspiracy!”
“Mr. Durukan, take it from my own personal experience, real conspiracies are not cool. Real conspiracies are dangerous and bewildering and exhausting and so, so frightening. In real conspiracies, you are all on your own. Whatever this is, it’s no matter for a nine-year-old boy. Leave it.”
Georgios Ferentinou gets a sponge and mops up the tea, careful of the shards of glass.
Necdet sees the first djinni perched on the hot-air hand dryer as he exits the toilet cubicle. The djinni is like a grossly obese baby, slit-eyed and puff-faced. And it’s on fire. Necdet can feel the heat from the toilet door. It seethes and roars like burning fat.
“I’d, uh, kind of like to dry my hands? It’s hygienic?”
The djinni cocks its bloated head to one side and holds out its pudgy hands. Necdet lifts his own hands towards them. The heat is incredible. His hands are dry in an instant.
“I’m going now.”
The question strikes him in the corridor: why didn’t the hand dryer melt? Necdet ducks back into the toilet. Nothing, of course. Djinn are never there when you look for them. Then the shakes hit. Necdet leans over the sink, stomach heaving. He presses his head against the cool porcelain. It is solid; it is dependable; it is cool certainty. He daren’t look up. It could be there again, perched on the hand dryer with its horrid horrid baby face. Or there could be something worse. Or the head of the woman who blew herself up on the tram. Necdet puts his mouth under the tap and gulps down clear cold water, lets it run down his face, into his eyes. Wash away what they have seen today. When he looks up the toilet is still empty.
In the lobby Mustafa practises his pitch shots. Mustafa is never without a plan. None have ever earned him a cent, let alone broken him out of this subterranean barn of a Business Rescue Centre, but his theory is that if he generates enough ideas one of them will stick. His latest is to exploit the fact that he is trapped in a Business Rescue Centre by turning it into an Urban Golf Facility.
“It’s a new urban sport,” Mustafa says. “Turn a building into a golf course. Corridors become fairways; offices are greens. But what makes it much much cooler than just golf is that you have to get your ball around corners and up flights of stairs. All the office furniture and partitions and workstations: those are like hazards and bunkers and all that stuff. You’re never quite sure where your ball is going to go. Sort of like handball or squash—or three-d crazy golf? Maybe we should include safety helmets and goggles, what do you think? I’m going to write up a prospectus; I’m sure I can raise some venture capital. It’s another great Turkish idea.”
Mustafa hits a five-iron down the corridor from his tee-off position on the empty reception desk. A sweetly angled shot, the ball strikes the wall just before the turn and ricochets around the corner. Mustafa swings his club over his shoulder. He has a lot of time to practice. You could walk over and around the Levent Business Rescue Centre and never know it was there. Hundreds do every day. It is forty thousand square metres of office space built into the underpinnings of the Emirates Tower. Cavernous halls, office spaces, corridors and meetings rooms, storage and kitchen and toilet facilities, even a recreation room and a gym, buried away never seeing the light of day. Should earthquake, fire or flood ever strike down those shining towers, a corporation could seamlessly move its business down to the Rescue Centre. It’s big enough to handle the entire Istanbul Stock Exchange. In the year and a half Necdet has been here, the red telephone has rung once, and that was a wrong number. Mustafa has been here since day one. Necdet is Mustafa’s only partner to stick it out more than six months. Mustafa likes the dusty, neon-lit solitude of the rows of empty workstations, the meeting rooms with their chairs all set at perfectly regular intervals around the oval tables. It’s room for creative thought. A thousand flowers have bloomed among these server farms.
“On for even par,” says Mustafa with a golfer’s follow-through air punch. “What’s with you? You look like you saw a ghost.”
“Not a ghost. I did see a djinni in the toilet.”
“Well, that is a traditional haunt of djinn.” Unfazed, Mustafa swings his club over his shoulder and jumps off the reception desk. He has time—buckets of time—to become a minor expert on everything. “According to those mystics and Sufis who make a study of such things, you’re supposed to ask permission every time you piss.”
“It was on the hand dryer, and it was a baby. A burning baby.”
“Ah. That’s different then. Carry these for me, would you?” Mustafa hands Necdet a pitching wedge, putter and a clatter of irons. He is only three years older than Necdet—they’ve talked about their ages, they’ve talked about everything down in the bunker—but he conducts himself like a worldly-wise cosmopolite. “I incline to the theory that djinn are spare thoughts left over from creation, memories of the Big Bang, so to speak. That would fit with them being creatures of fire. There’s a new theory among the imams who have a little quantum physics that the djinn are ourselves in a universe at an angle to ours. But I think in this case they are most likely to be some lingering trauma from being in the epicentre of a tram bomb. You don’t just walk away from these things, you know. I’m sure they have counselling available. If it were me, I’d have given you the day off, but it’s not mine to give, alas.” The Levent Business Rescue Centre is managed by Gum-Chewing Suzan. When she phones in twice a week to make sure Necdet and Mustafa haven’t killed each other with the fire axes she sounds as if she is chewing a wad of gum the size of a car. Neither Necdet nor Mustafa have ever met her. “Either that or all that skunk you smoke is finally catching up with you. Pitching wedge, please.”
And that would also explain the floating luminous head of the suicide bomber, Necdet thinks as he picks the wedge out of the clutch of clubs in his grasp. I didn’t tell you about her because I thought that too. But I felt the heat of the djinni of the hand dryer on my face. I dried my hands on it. Traumas don’t dry hands.
Mustafa addresses the ball. He has a good lie in the centre of the corridor, well positioned for a chip up the staircase at the end onto the return. Mustafa wiggles his ass. A flicker in the corner of Necdet’s vision makes him glance over his shoulder. Behind the glass wall is the main back office; twenty-seven thousand square metres of dusty desks, tucked in chairs and outdated workstations. Every monitor, as far as Necdet can see into the regress of screens, crackles with static and the ghost of a face from another universe.
The Roman Emperor Vespasian said that money has no smell. The emperor lied. Money is every breath Adnan Sarioğlu takes on the trading floor. The smell of money is the ionic charge of Özer Gas and Commodities; sweat and musk, electricity and the hydrocarbon scent of power-warmed plastics, time and tension. To beach-boy-turned-commodities-trader Adnan, money is the smell of a wetsuit worn by a woman.
The commodity pit is a cylinder at the heart of Özer’s glass tower, eight floors ringed around a central shaft and capped with a stained glass dome that throws shards of colour across the traders ranged around the Money Tree. That is Adnan’s name for the IT core that runs from floor to ceiling, tier upon tier of suspended servers and network links, each level keyed to a specific commodity. Gas is lowly, so its traders are on the second tier, one above crude and dirty oil, and Adnan is only rarely surprised by a shard of blue or gold falling through the jungle of routers and servers and power conduits onto his face. Carbon is the highest, right up there under the dome. Carbon is exalted; carbon is pure.
Adnan Sarioğlu reaches up and slides trading screens around the branches of the Money Tree. He brings in new panes of prices, expands some, pushes others away into the recesses of the central tree. To the virtual eye of the Özer trader, the information core at the centre is dense with leaves of information, almost impenetrable in their total coverage of the global markets. Commodity trading floors, once roaring pits of open-outcry bids and buys, have all become silent as dervish monasteries now that trading information is beamed directly onto the eyeball and AI assistants murmur in the inner ear. Adnan knew the old pit of the ITB exchange only as a red-jacket junior, but the roar of the traders screaming into each other’s faces shook his blood vessels, echoed in the ventricles of his heart.When the bell rang, when trading closed and he stepped out to the back office, the hush hit him like a breaking wave. Now he only gets that breaker of sound on the terraces of Aslantepe Stadium.
In the new bourse the clamour is visual. Adnan moves through a storm of information, screens and panels swooping around him like starlings on a winter afternoon. The traders are peacock bright, far from the formal colour coding of dealers, traders, and back office teams. Many have customised their jackets with panels of nanoweave or had them cut from whole animated fabric. Flickering flames at cuffs, hem and lapels are the thing. Others sport Heavy Metal devils, roaring dinosaurs, spinning euro signs, nudes or football team logos. Onur Bey’s bandwidth trading team has adopted the Lâle Devri tulip motif. Adnan thinks that decadent and effeminate. He wears the front-and-back quartered red and silver of Özer. Simple, direct, unaffected; what a man should have on his back. His single affectation is his tag; it reads DRK. Draksor: once an Ultralord of the Universe, always an Ultralord of the Universe.
Adnan reaches up and flicks open a screen from the cloak of display panels wrapped around him. Ten minutes to the closing bell at the Baku Commodity Exchange, the big central Asian gas market. In that rush to close price differences open between Baku and Istanbul. In those few seconds while the market reacts, dealers like Adnan Sarioğlu can make money. It’s all about arbitrage. Özer’s man in Baku is Fat Ali. Adnan met him on an Özer away-day trailbiking in Cappadocia. Adnan wasn’t a very good trail-biker. Neither was Fat Ali. They both preferred cars. They left the corporate boys to their leathers and dust and spent the afternoon drinking wine on the hotel’s rooftop terrace and speculating if buying the winery might be a sound investment. They drank a lot of wine. As well as car and wine enthusiasts they were both Cimbom fans. They work well together. But Fat Ali isn’t an Ultralord.
Adnan’s eyes flick from screen to screen to screen. Every two seconds Adnan checks the prices on Baku June delivery. The nano blowing in gales through his head makes this level of concentration sustainable.
“Four forty-six and trading small,” Adnan says. “Someone out there long? Come on Ali; one of your camel-fuckers has to be going long.”
The angel of arbitrage is the angel of the gaps. The AI agents can react to a market more quickly than any human, but when they attempt to push that market any real intelligence can see them coming like a train. Some of the dealers rely heavily on their agents. Adnan trusts his own wit and his ability to see patterns those value-adding few seconds before they appear on the screens. Come to me, angel of the gaps.
“Four forty-seven and pretty thin stuff,” Fat Ali says in Baku. But at some point as the clock ticks down to the bell there will be some local trader buying in Baku who does not have a seat in Istanbul’s central ITB and so cannot trade there. The price will move in Baku, and for the few seconds before the market shifts in Istanbul, Adnan Sarioğlu and Fat Ali can make money.
“What’s Branobel doing?”
The Baku screen swoops to a halt in front of Adnan. “We’re at four forty-five.” And there is the gap. Now all he needs is a way to exploit it. Adnan whirls screens around him. “Someone wants to sell fat. Come on, you bastard. I can feel you.”
“Flush him out and we’ll shoot him down.”
Adnan moves his hands: a dance, a code. A new offer of four hundred and forty-five dollars flows out from him across the many screens of the Money Tree like a wind rippling leaves. Instantly theAIs swarm. This’ll rattle you out, Adnan thinks. There will be a seller out there with a limit on the daily downward movement of his contracts. Adnan’s scare-price is designed to look as if the market is headed down farther yet. Faced with the possibility of unlimited loss, that trader will be forced to sell. And there. One star, burning bright in laser light on the back of Adnan’s retina. The stop-loss seller. Adnan buys two hundred. In the same instant Fat Ali sells those same two hundred across the price gap in Baku. Buy Istanbul at four forty-five; sell Baku at four forty-seven. Forty thousand euro profit for two seconds’ work. Another two seconds later the market adjusts and closes the differential. The angel of the gaps moves on. At no time does anyone sniff the gas that Adnan has arbitraged. That would be a grievous error. This is the secret of Özer Gas and Commodities: never carry any gas, never inventory any commodities, never get left holding. Promises and options of future prices are the currency.
Adnan’s AIs book the sale and throw it to Kemal in the back office. Forty thousand euro. A waft of woman-warmed sun-scalded neoprene waves across his money. It was a sweet deal and few play it better than Adnan Sarioğlu and Fat Ali, but it’s not where the real money lies. Commodities money will always be quickie money, money you have to cajole into coming to you, wit and speed money. For you to make it means someone has to lose it. It’s a closed system. There are no draws in Özer. But Turquoise, that’s real money. That’s money enough to get out of the wheedling and the carpet selling. Turquoise is magic money, that comes out of nowhere. Five minutes to close in Baku, an hour to the bell in Istanbul.Adnan Sarioğlu opens his hands, pulls the twenty-four-hour spot-price screen in before his face. There’s something in there: a shadow of a pattern, a watermark in a banknote. Now how can I make money here?
Leyla at the Nano Bazaar. This wall of pressed construction carbon business units is the caravanserai of the business of the infinitesimally small. Banners and windsocks share the roofline of Big Box industrial units with the Turkish crescent moon and the European Union stars. The street wall is decorated with a huge mural depicting the orders of magnitude of the universe, from the cosmological on the left to the quantum on the extreme right, worked in the flora abstractions of Iznik ceramics. The centre represents the human scale. As Leyla reads the wall of Nano Bazaar a dozen trucks and buses and dolmuşes draw up or depart; mopeds and yellow taxis and little three-wheel citi-cars steer around her. Leyla’s heart leaps.
This is always always always what she wished a bazaar to be. Demre, proudly claiming to be the birthplace of Santa Claus, was direly lacking in workshops of wonder. Small corner stores, an understocked chain supermarket on the permanent edge of bankruptcy and a huge cash-and-carry that serviced the farms and the hotels squeezed between the plastic sky and the shingle shore. Russians flew there by the charter load to sun themselves and get wrecked on drink. Drip irrigation equipment and imported vodka, a typical Demre combination. But Istanbul; Istanbul was the magic. Away from home, free from the humid claustrophobia of the greenhouses, hectare after hectare after hectare; a speck of dust in the biggest city in Europe, anonymous yet freed by that anonymity to be foolish, to be frivolous and fabulous, to live fantasies. The Grand Bazaar! This was a name of wonder. This was hectare upon hectare of Cathay silk and Tashkent carpets, bolts of damask and muslin, brass and silver and gold and rare spices that would send the air heady. It was merchants and traders and caravan masters; the cornucopia where the Silk Road finally set down its cargoes. The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul was shit and sharks. Overpriced stuff for tourists, shoddy and glittery. Buy buy buy. The Egyptian Market was no different. In that season she went to every old bazaar in Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu. The magic wasn’t there.
This, this is the magic. This is dangerous, like the true magic always is. This is the new terminus of the Silk Road; central Asia’s engineers and nanoware programmers the merchants and caravan masters of the Third Industrial Revolution. Leyla steps boldly through the gate. The air of Nano Bazaar air is heady; every breath a new emotion. She reels from blissed-up euphoria into nervy paranoia into awed dread in as many steps. Dust swirls in front of her, glittering in the pinhole sunbeams shining through the patchy plastic awning. The dust coalesces into a ghostly image of her face. It frowns, moves its lips to speak, and is gone in a burst of glitter. Tiny ratbots scuttle around her heels. Windows flicker with oil-sheen television pictures, rolled-down shutters drip Big Brand logos; all the lovely labels she will enjoy when she gets proper marketing-job money. Bubbles waft across her face; she recoils as they burst, then gives a little “oh!” of delight as each delicate detonation plays a fragment of Gülsen’s last-summer hit Şinaney. The birds that look down from the gutters of the industrial units aren’t birds. Atatürk’s face on a passing T-shirt suddenly turns its eyes on her and scowls. Leyla wants to clap her hands in wonder.
“Unit 229?” she asks a bearded man with curly hair. He’s bent over the engine of a little three-wheeler delivery truck. BEKŞIR BORSCHT AND BLINI, it says on the side. She’s heard Russian food is very fashionable with these tech guys. Vodka freezing in the reactor cooling cells. The lad frowns at her and mutters something in Russian. She knows it well from too many drunken tourists. Aguttural, peasant tongue to her, next to the music of Turkish, but here it’s exciting, salty, exotic. Two dozen languages from as many nations ring around this former military airbase on the cheap edge of Fenerbahçe.
The guy has just bought coffees from a franchise wagon; one in each hand, those Western-style coffees that are just flavoured milk and come in cardboard buckets with wooden stirrers. He’s tall and sallow and lanky with an older face than his clothes, a slightly overdefined jaw and thoughtful puppy eyes that keep darting away from her gaze.
“That’s over in Smaller.”
“We’re arranged in order of technology scale,” he says. “Milli, micro, nano. Small, Smaller, Smallest. Small is beautiful. Size matters. I’m going that way.”
Leyla offers a hand. Her business card is primed. The man lifts high his buckets of coffee in apology.
“I’m Leyla Gültaşli; I’m a freelance marketing consultant; I’ve an appointment with Yaşar Ceylan from Ceylan-Besarani.”
“So what do you want with Yaşar?”
“He wants me to build a business development plan to upscale the company. Access finance, White Knights, venture capitalists, that sort of thing.”
“Venture capitalists.” He sucks in breath. “You see, I find money talk kind of scary.”
“It’s not when you know what to do with it.”
Despite Sub-Aunt Kevser’s explanation Leyla still isn’t clear how she’s related to Yaşar, but he was nice and polite when she called him, interested with none of the geeky self-fascination.
“Fenerbahçe, yeah, got that.” It was a trek; five different modes of transport. With good connections it was an hour and half. Give it three. Once again she showered in costly water, ironed out the frustration rumples in her going-to-interview suit, set out with plenty time.
“Sort of, yes.”
Nanotechnology, even sort-of nanotechnology; what does she know about nanotechnology? What does anyone really know about nanotechnology, except that it is the hot new revolution that promises to change the world as radically as information technology a generation before? Leyla has no preparation other than a well-ironed suit and her own insuperable belief in her own ability. This is as far as she could possibly be from Demre.
“Unit 229.” The man gestures with his coffee cups. He follows Leyla through the low door into an anonymous single-bay front office. “Yaşar, this is Leyla Gültaşli. She’s our freelance marketing consultant.”
“Oh, ah, yes; pleased to meet you.” Leyla fights down the blush of her mistake as she shakes the hand of the young man getting to his feet from the cramped seat pressed up by the desk against the wall. Yaşar Ceylan’s hair is too long and his belly is too big and he has facial hair, but his eyes are bright and he holds her look and his grip is sincere. Information crackles, palm to palm, business card to business card.
“I see you’ve already met Aso, my business partner.”
“Business partner, yes, of course, I should have guessed. Aunt Kevser didn’t tell me, partner, of course.” She’s gabbling, gabbling; gabbling girl from the sticks.
“And Zeliha.” The fourth person in the tiny office is a woman in her late twenties almost lost behind the piles of invoices and printouts that cover her tiny desk. She frowns at Leyla, looks baffled and buries her face in one of the coffee buckets. Two desks, three chairs, a filing cabinet with a printer on the top, a row of too too fashionable ugly Urban Toy figures on the window ledge behind Yaşar. The four of them fit into the tiny office like segments of an orange.
“So what is it you actually do here?”
Yaşar and Aso look at each other.
“Programmable nucleic bio-informatics.”
“Okay,” says Leyla Gültaşli. “Maybe this is the point where I should tell you that I haven’t a clue what that means.”
“And you’re not really a marketing consultant either,” says Yaşar. “Sorry. Aunt Kevser. She told me.”
Zeliha sniggers into her coffee.
“But we still need you,” Aso adds quickly. “We know as little about marketing as you do about programmable nucleic bio-informatics.”
“Except that if I’m to pitch it, I need some comprehension of what it is.”
Yaşar and Aso look at each other again. They’re like comedy presenters on children’s television.
“You see, we’re small,” Yaşar says.
“But not smallest,” Aso concludes.
“We’re not microrobotics and smart sand.”
“Neither are we true nano, let alone femto.”
“We’re kind of in-between.”
“Technology that becomes like biology.”
“Biology that becomes technological.”
“Stop,” says Leyla Gültaşli. “Maybe I’m not a marketing executive—yet—but I do know that if you talk to a venture capitalist like that, they’ll throw you straight out.”
“Okay okay.” Yaşar holds his hands up. “Let’s go back to basics. The scales. Small tech: microrobotics, swarm computing, that kind of scale.”
“Like BitBots,” Leyla says brightly. “Or police bots.”
“Okay,” Yaşar says. “And at the other end of the scale, there’s smallest—if you don’t count quantum dots—which is nanotechnology, which only starts at the scale of a tenth of a wavelength of light.”
“It’s what I snort when I need to remember stuff or have to concentrate or want to play at being someone else for a while,” Leyla says. “It’s what makes pictures on T-shirts move and lets you have smartpaper and scrubs extra cholesterol out of your arteries or alcohol out of your liver. It’s why my ceptep and car, if I had a car, recharge in five seconds flat.”
“Well, there is a bit more to it than that,” Yaşar says.
“There’s a scale in between, which is Smaller, and that’s the scale we work at. We’re working with the cells of the human body,” says Aso.
“What, like little submarines in the bloodstream?” Leyla asks.
They both look at her. Zeliha sniggers again.
“I think you’ll find that is science fiction,” Aso says.
“You see, at the cellular level, the viscosity of blood is so enormous—”
“Stop. Enough of the double act. Tell me, this isn’t to do with those replicator things?”
Yaşar and Aso look aghast, as if she has accused them of paedophilia. Even Zeliha is ruffled.
“We do bio-informatics,” Yaşar says.
“Studies into replicators are subject to strict government licence and oversight,” Aso says. “Replicator experiments can only be carried out at government-approved research facilities, and they’re all in Ankara.”
So someone in this bazaar of wonders is experimenting with replicators, Leyla thinks. Would that be Small, Smaller or Smallest? Replicators were danger. Replicators were the new nuclear. Replicators got you shot, no questions no appeal. Replicators were end-of-the-world creeping up one relentless atom after another. An enduring childhood terror: unable to sleep, Leyla had gone down the stairs. Quietly quietly, no one hearing. Mummy and Daddy were there on their respective sofas and chairs, big brother Aziz and sister Hasibe sprawling across the floor. News time; their faces were blue with the world pouring from the flat screen that occupied an entire wall. At that scale the horror can’t be avoided. The world was coming to the worst possible end. Later Leyla learned that there was a name for this apocalypse; the Grey Goo scenario. She saw a slow tide of grey devour a town like Demre. Houses, streets, the mosque, the shopping centre, the bus station, the buses, the cars in the street—all were gradually overrun by this creeping corruption, silver as the botrytis mold that stalked the greenhouses and reduced tomatoes and aubergines to undulating velvety grey. There were no people in this death-Demre. But the film did show a cat, a black cat with white feet and tail, cornered by the inevitable grey, swamped, reduced to a cat-shaped patch of silver carpet that heaved and kicked for a few moments and then melted. She started screaming.
“It’s all right, darling, it’s only the television, it’s just made up, just a silly old thing.” Her mother scooped her up as her father flicked away to some psychic show. But Leyla had seen the logo in the corner of the screen and knew what it meant. This was the news; this was true. Where had this come from, where was it going? She was seven, maybe halfway to eight, but the image of her world, her parents, everything and everyone she loved, but especially Bubu the cat who hunted polytunnel vermin, being turned to grey mold still gave her screaming nightmares. Years later, when she retold the story at a family gathering, she had finally learned that it was an opinion piece in response to Ankara announcing special economic status for new nanotechnology developments to boost Turkey’s research status as an EU candidate state. It was a clever computer animation of runaway replicator nanotech devouring the world. The prophet of nanotechnological doom was a tight, elegant man with a very well-trimmed grey moustache and the narrowest eyes she had ever seen. She’s seen Hasan Eken many times since—he’s still the expert-of-choice on the dangers of the race to nanotech: Dr. Goo, the columnists call him. But that night he was the angel of death. He terrified her more purely than anyone before or since. Replicators are death.
She’s accused her potential new clients of being geek boys and criminal replicator-runners. This isn’t how it works in the client management handouts.
“Okay, so we have DNA—that’s the material in the nucleus of every single cell of your body that programmes how the proteins that build living material are put together,” Yaşar says.
“I know what DNA is.”
“Well, bio-informatics looks at DNA not so much from the point of view of inheritance and cell building, but as information processing; programming almost. Each strand of DNA is a complex piece of biological software that the ribosomes process to print out proteins. DNA can be used to make chemical computers, and I’m sure even you’ve heard of biochips—there are half a dozen labs here working on biochip projects. The media are always on about them: direct interface between technology and the human brain, the self as the final frontier, opening up the skull, ceptep calls right into someone else’s brain, sending pictures straight into someone’s visual cortex. All you have to do is think a thought at someone and it will go through the ceptep net straight into their brains.”
“Now that sounds like science fiction to me,” says Leyla. She’s only said this because she’s noticed that Aso, when he tried hard to explain, has a nice, introverted frown, as if he must convince himself before he tries to persuade anyone else.
“Do you know what noncoding DNA is?” Yaşar asks.
Leyla tries to think of a smart answer but shakes her head.
“Well, the human genome has massive redundancy—that means that two percent of the DNA does all the work of instructing the ribosomes that build the proteins that make up the cells of your body. Ninety-eight percent of your DNA just sits there doing nothing. Taking up space in the gene.”
“To bio-informaticists, that’s memory going begging,” says Aso. “Wasted processing power. Until the Besarani-Ceylan Transcriber.”
“Ceylan-Besarani Transcriber,” Yaşar says quickly.
Aso holds up a finger. He has started, so he will finish.
“The Besarani-Ceylan Transcriber is a molecular engine that takes information from bloodstream-programmed nano and transcribes it onto junk DNA.”
Leyla knows she is supposed to look impressed here.
“This transcriber writes information onto the spare capacity of this noncoding DNA,” she says.
They’re still waiting.
“Think a minute about the implications,” Aso says.
“You’re storing information inside cells.” They’re expecting more. “You’re turning living cells into . . . tiny computers?”
They’re looking happier now.
“And how many cells are there in the human body?” Yaşar asks.
“As many as there are stars in the sky!” declares Zeliha unexpectedly.
“Ten trillion cells,” Aso says. “And inside each cell are thirty-two thousand one hundred and eighty-five genes, three billion bases, eighty-five percent of which are noncoding.” There’s an odd, fundamentalist look in his eyes now.
“So multiply the numbers,” Yaşar cajoles. Leyla has never been very good at carrying zeroes in her head.
“A thousand billion,” she says uncertainly. “Zillion.”
Yaşar shakes his head. “No no no. One thousand three hundred and fifty zettabytes of information, storable inside every human being. That’s zettabytes. These are numbers they haven’t made up names for yet. And what can write can also read. And what is a computer other than something that reads an instruction in one place and writes the answer in another?”
“All human music ever written fits into your appendix,” Aso says. “Every book in every library is a few millimetres of your small intestine. Every detail of your life can be recorded—and replayed. That’s maybe the size of your stomach. You can live other people’s lives. Talents and abilities and new skills can be downloaded and stored permanently. Not like now where it wears off as the nano is purged from the system. The Besarani-Ceylan Transcriber writes it into the cells of your body. You want to play the piano? It’s yours. You want to memorise a play, or you want to memorise every test case in the law library? Foreign languages, home plumbing, programming code, physics, chemistry—you’ve got them. Now, what you do with them once you’ve got them, what you make of them, that’s up to you. We don’t guarantee expertise, only that it’s there, coded into your DNA.”
“Come and see,” says Yaşar. Everyone shuffles round to let Yaşar out from behind his desk and round to the door in the back wall.
The warehouse behind the door is as dark and cool and spacious as the front office is bright and hot and crammed. It smells of fresh cinder block, still drying cement, paint and electronics. Aso clicks on batteries of lights. In the centre of the unit stands a single bladeserver tower, swathed in pipes that run to a massive cooling unit on the ceiling. Other than that the unit is the domain of cobwebs and birds’ nests glued under the eaves and dust sparkling in the light that slants through the narrow, high windows. She draws an arc with the point of her good shoes in the dust on the concrete floor.
“What am I looking at exactly?” Leyla Gültaşli shouts. The roar of fans and cooling pumps and dust extractors from the black monolith defeats conversation.
“A real-time modelling farm running X-cis, Atomage and Cell-render 7,” Aso announces proudly.
“Licensed copies,” Yaşar adds.
“You’re looking at forty thousand euro of high-end commercial molecular modelling ware,” Aso shouts.
“And that’s a reconditioned ex-EnGen render unit,” Yaşar says. “We’ve made ten thousand euro worth of modifications and upgrades—it’s a Refiğ Brothers custom overclock; that’s almost five hundred terraflops Rpeak. You don’t want to know how much electricity and water this things eats.”
“I’m looking at a big computer.”
“You’re looking at a state-of-the-art real-time molecular design and modelling suite.”
“Let me get this right: you don’t actually make anything here.”
The men looked as shocked as if she has accused them of running a porn studio.
“We’re designers,” Yaşar says. “Nobody who’s anybody makes stuff. That’s just production.”
“I think you need to see it,”Aso says. “What’s the bandwidth on your ceptep?”
Leyla meekly offers up the base unit from her bag. The boys huddle over it, stork and starling, turning it over in their hands, taking it without a word from each other.
“It should be all right, but you’ll need these.” Aso gingerly fits a pair of lensless spectacle frames on Leyla’s face, adjusting their set on her nose with an optician’s care. “You really only get the full idea in 3D.”
Leyla blinks and flinches as the write-lasers drop down in front of her eyes. Her ceptep rings in her bag; then she is dropped face-forward into the world of DNA. The dusty concrete vault is filled with helical hawsers like the bridge cables reaching out before her, through the walls of the fabrication unit. They rotate along their axes, corkscrews, spiral staircases,Archimedes screws. DNA; the double helices linked by rungs of base pairs. The atoms waltz around her, stately, relentless. It is engulfing, huge, hypnotic yet deeply relaxing. Leyla is thinking how she could market it as a spa experience when she becomes aware of movement up ahead of her. Little scurrying whirligig things, like the beetles she used to see on the water tanks back at home, gyring around on the surface tension, haul themselves atom by atom up the endless spiral staircases of the DNA helices. The simulation focuses on a cluster of DNA strands, bringing Leyla in closer, close until the DNA climbers seem the size of buses. This is the atomic scale; a Tinkertoy universe built from balls: beach balls and footballs and tennis balls and tiny bouncing Ping-Pong balls. Cogs made of linked spheres, cranks and levers and wheels, built from balls. Balls made from smaller balls from smaller balls. It’s a crèche playroom reality, everything soft and rounded and playful. But these are not soft children’s toys. They are purposeful, tireless, unstoppable crawlers, base pair by base pair heaving the thread of DNAthrough their interiors, snapping the bases, fusing them together behind them, but changed. She watches molecular shears cut bonds and reweave them into new patterns. Heave, shear, weave, heave. Atom by atom up the endless chain of DNA.
When she was a tiny thing, Leyla had gone down with a raging tonsillitis that spread into her brain and unfolded into full fever. For two nights she had bumped along the ceiling of death, sweating, hallucinating things like these atom-crawlers; unstoppably climbing endless spirals yet never advancing one single centimetre forward. This was an unending fever-march through the molecules of her body.
She takes off the eyewriter frame.
“What is it you want me to do?”
They go back out into the front office for the money talk.
“We’re going to go to a production prototype,” Yaşar says.
“Proof of concept,” Aso adds. This double-act is starting to grate.
“We’ve budgeted at two hundred and seventy-five thousand euro at this stage. We’re looking for venture capital, a White Knight of some kind, even an established industry. In return we put up fifty percent of the company.”
“Okay,” says Leyla. “This sounds doable. I can certainly look at the business plan and draw up a funding strategy. I can also front up a pitch. Now, my fees—”
“Two things before you rush into agreeing to anything,” saysAso. He looks at Yaşar. Yaşar sucks in his bottom lip.
“We need to move fast on this. There is a rival project.We’ve heard they’re about to move into a production model.”
“How fast?” Leyla asks.
“Two weeks, max.”
“There is another thing,” Aso says. Yaşar winces uncomfortably.
“The company’s not entirely ours.”
“How much do you own?”
“Fifty percent. We needed money up front for the modelling farm and the software.”
“Where did you get it?” Leyla asks.
“Where do you think two boys just out of postdoc with no credit history are going to get fifty thousand euro?” Yaşar says.
“Family,” says Aso. “His family. Your family.”
“Who?” Leyla asks.
“Second cousin,” Yaşar explains. “He’s one of these relatives can always get things.”
“Is there a contract?” Leyla asks.
“It’s an informal agreement,” Yaşar says. “A family thing. There’s a token: whoever owns it has half of Ceylan-Besarani.”
“Why do I get the feeling this isn’t going to be as simple as just making Mehmet Ali an offer he can’t refuse?”
“No one’s heard from Mehmet Ali for a couple of months. He’s not answering calls.”
“And the token?”
Yaşar opens his hands in helpless supplication.
“You have to get this token back. If some dodgy distant relation can saunter in, slap a piece of paper down and claim fifty percent . . .”
“It’s not a piece of paper.” Aso fishes in his jacket pocket and offers an object in his palm to Leyla. “It’s a miniature Koran, the kind people buy as souvenirs after visiting saints’ tombs. Quite a nice one; an old family heirloom. I heard someone say it was Persian.At some point in its history it got cut cleanly in half.”
The Ultralords of the Universe eat köfte at the Kebab Prophet’s kiosk across Levent Plaza from the Özer Tower. They sit in order of Elemental Mastery on their assigned stools at the tin counter and eat very good, very messy meatballs, their napkins tucked into shirt collars. They are coming down from nano-high. It works this way. First they talk a lot, incessantly, chirruping and clattering. In this stage bets are settled and forfeits like speed camera fines are paid. In the second phase everyone is very quiet, very withdrawn and introspective. Distance vision blurs so that the glass and money towers of Levent sway like reeds. Then the close vision smears so the diners at the Kebab Prophets have to hold their hand-meals at arm’s length to focus on them. Then comes the killing, killing low, which if it lasted any more than a couple of minutes would send you off a bridge or under a tram. And then you are just yourself again and the Ultralords of the Universe go back to being merely men.
Kemal bangs down late onto his red-topped bar stool between Adnan and Kadir Yinanç in Risk Management.
“Element of Fire, fight with me!” he shouts. The Kebab Prophet slaps the paper-wrapped kebab down on the mirror-bright counter.
“Element of Air, assist me!” Adnan cries.
“Element of Water, wage war with me,” says Kadir. He’s always known he has the shit line.
“Element of Earth, empower me,” mutters Öguz.
Draksor Ultror Terrak and Hydror. Once there were, once there weren’t, in a land not so far away and as close as the atrium of Özer Gas and Commodities, four fresh faces and sharp suits. They had things in common. They were men, they were part of a group of new recruits starting at Istanbul’s biggest and shiniest commodities firm on the same day, and they were all mad mad Cimbom fans. The supercilious woman leading the induction had in the course of her tour given her party a glimpse of the heavenlike golden luxury of the boardroom: And who knows, you may even make it all the way up to a seat around this table. The cocky don’t-give-a-fuck one from the south coast made the comment, Looks more like Slavor’s Temple of Doom. Three caught the reference to the old kids’ cartoon and creased up in suppressed laughter. Afterwards they sought each other out and the Ultralords of the Universe were born. None have yet made it to that golden temple. Instead, they’re planning the financial coup of the decade. Ultror, Ultralord of Fire, put the business plan together in the back office; a hundred AI devoting a fragment of their bandwidth, each a part, none comprehending the whole.
Terrak, Ultralord of Earth, will disguise it as just another Baku gas deal, barrelling down the Nabucco Line from Erzurum.
Hydror, Ultralord of Water, will conceal it in the labyrinth of Özer’s audit systems, like a mystic name of God within a mosque’s ornate calligraphies.
Draksor, Ultralord ofAir, makes the deal. He gets the money.And when he has the money, when the deal is down, when the price is right and only when the price is right, he gives the word to all the other Ultralords to swing Turquoise into operation.
“I’m seeing Ferid Bey again tonight,”Adnan says. “He says he needs more information.”
“More?” says Kemal. He’s always been an irritable man, but this is beyond nature or nano. “He’s got the business plan.”
“He wants the market analysis.”
Kemal rolls his eyes again. The heat, Adnan thinks. It draws the strength out of us and makes us brittle and edgy as street dogs, but as long as it lasts, Turquoise lives. Kemal offers a hand over the debris of köfte and bread. Adnan takes it.
“Here’s your fucking market analysis.” Information sparks between them, page after page of breakdowns and charts and forecasts. It’s a fine and dark art for which Adnan has neither the talent nor the patience. The deal, the handshake, the people—those are his gifts.
“Where are you meeting him?”
“At a private executive bathhouse.”
“Watch out he doesn’t stick it up you,” snorts Öguz.
“That’ll be the sweetest your balls have smelled all year,” says Kemal.
“And if he bites?” Kadir asks. Ferid Bey is far from the first oligarch the Ultralords of the Universe have approached. But he is the first to have fixed a second meeting, the first to ask for more detail.
“Is the Iranian still in town?”
“I can arrange that.”
“Then it’s champagne in the box,” declares Adnan.
“And the ball in the back of the net,” chorus the Ultralords and the Kebab Prophet.
“Did you look at that yalı?” the Kebab Prophet asks. He is called the Prophet because he restores harmony, heals souls, subtly guides the words and thoughts of four Levent money boys blazing with autistic levels of focus and synthetic aggression. He’s the ultimate come-down treatment.
“I certainly did,” Adnan says. “And I shall make them an offer.”
“Too close to the water for me,” says Kemal. “You get vermin. Rats the size of fucking dogs. I’ve seen them. Cats are scared of them. Give me one of those new-builds up in Ulus.”
“Sure, Adnan wants to raise an old-fashioned Ottoman dynasty,” says Kadir.
“Well, I wouldn’t raise any kids there,” says Öguz. “You get bad vapours from the Bosphorus. I know what I’m talking about here. All that marine pollution just hangs there. It’s like smog. And then that double-tide thing; the water never really gets changed. Sewage can hang around for a week or even longer. And there’s worse. I know this—don’t argue—this cop friend of mine told me when something goes in off the bridges, the bodies can go up and down for months.”
“Well girls,” Adnan says, wiping his mouth with a paper napkin. “If we’re quite finished discussing suicides, shit and the cleanliness of my testicles, let’s do some work, shall we?”
Kemal scrunches up his kebab paper and shies it towards the refuse sack in its hoop at the back of the stall. He misses. The Kebab Prophet picks it up and disposes of it in the black plastic bag.
The man of words and the man of numbers see a white room differently. To the writer it’s a cube of horror, a blank needing to be filled with the spurt of imagination. It is that space you write about when you have looked at nothing else for days. It is writing about writing. To the mathematician it’s the void, the pure white light that, falling through a prism of analysis, breaks into the numbers that are ultimate reality. The walls of the white room are the walls of the universe, and beyond them lies mathematics.
Georgios Ferentinou does not fear his white, one-book library, as austere as a monk’s cell. The one small window, guarded by a pierced wooden screen, allows glimpses of Adem Dede Square and its stooping apartment buildings. In the white room, the walls open onto other Istanbuls where the streets and buildings are drawn by their inhabitants’ supermarket spending habits or their diseases and medical interventions or the subtle interactions of their geographical, social and religious affiliations. There are the restless Istanbuls of traffics and tracks and tunnels. There are wiry Istanbuls, nervous as a skinned man, of gas and power and data. There are Istanbuls built entirely out of football gossip. For every commodity, for every activity that can be analysed and modelled, there is a city.
To Georgios Ferentinou economics is the most human of sciences. It is the science of wants and frustrations. It is psychology subject to the abstract, amplifying forces of mathematics. An individual bet on a news story, one elementary schoolchild’s guess at the number of Disney plushies in a jar, is a product of value and experience.Aggregate them, by a simple average or financial instruments with the promise of future gain, and they become oracular. Mathematics is the power that lies behind the white walls of the one-book library. Georgios is an old agnostic who can’t believe in any god who would believe in him, but increasingly he feels it is a Platonic universe. Mathematics is too unfeasibly accurate in its ability to describe physical and human reality. At the bottom of everything is number. When he dies, and Georgios thinks about that a little every day, as old men should, he will evaporate into carbon atoms. He will become white and merge with the walls of mathematics and pass through them into those other Istanbuls.
Georgios Ferentinou’s thoughts meander, as an old man’s should, a walk through the intricate city of memory, to Ariana. He pictures her in Eskiköy’s steep streets. She hasn’t aged a day. She can’t have aged. Time has been suspended since he saw her walk from the ferry to the station. As the Greek community has grown smaller, it has grown tighter. He could find her easily, but Georgios wonders not if he can find Ariana, but if he dare. Why has she come back after forty-seven years?
Georgios shakes himself out of his meanderings. He looks again at the jerking footage Can sent him from his BitBot. A watching robot implies that the tram-bomber was not a lone agent. Lone killers are usually socially inept males and need the theatre of their own apotheosis. They post elaborate sermons of alienation on social-networking sites before they strap on the guns and walk into the school or mall or government office. Suicide bombers, female or male, deliver diatribes of social justice and transformation and promises of paradise. There is a structure behind this desperate, headless woman. Turkey’s many terror groups each have their own signature. The Kurds tend to the theatrical. They need to attract global attention to themselves as a nation. The anti-EU Grey Wolf nationalists see themselves in the romantic tradition of theYoung Turks and favour individual assassinations and street shootings. This is a classic Islamist martyrdom on a Number 119 tram. It is the violence of a faithful family dog that turns and rends the baby, the neighbour who stabs her husband, the unexplained suicide of a work colleague. Forces unseen and unsuspected press for years, warping lives and relationships. The organisation behind the Necatibey bomb—probably a cell of three or four individuals, certainly with a ridiculous name—would want to record the moment of immolation. Wa’habist sites are full of explosions and martyrdoms, with homebrew graphics and heroic music. So why risk that information chasing the boy’s BitBot? Why the need to hack the signal? Why try to follow it back to this house? Strange indeed here. Strange is that grain of order in the seethe of randomness. Strange is information.
The jerky, disjointed images hurt Georgios’s eyes. He looks up to the visual peace of his white walls. The door buzzer is so loud, so sudden it stabs his heart. A man at the door. Georgios’s heart hammers. They’ve found him; they’ve come for him. They know everything. They are at his door. His heart flutters, unable to land on the beat. Be logical. Killers would not ring the doorbell. They would kill quietly; strangle him like an old Ottoman prince.
The buzzer jars again. The man looks up into the camera.
“Georgios Ferentinou?” He is well spoken, educated. They usually are. Fanaticism is a middle-class vice. Decent suit, clean shirt and neatly knotted tie. “My name is Heydar Bekdil.” Georgios sits back from the screen. The smartpaper can’t see him, but the man at the door frowns as if he is looking right into the room. A third buzz. “Mr. Ferentinou, it’s quite important that I talk to you.” He presses a palm to the doorplate. An identification flows through his hand to the computer. MIT. The National Intelligence Organisation. What interest could the intelligence services have in him? “Mr. Ferentinou?” Georgios buzzes him in.
“I’m sorry about the dust,” Georgios apologises as he shows the visitor into his living room. The room is another converted cell; two sofas face each other rather too closely over a long narrow table. “I’ve grown rather accustomed to my own rules of living. After a few months the dust doesn’t seem to get any worse, I’ve found. You’ll take some tea.”
In the adjoining kitchen Georgios Ferentinou boils the kettle and finds two unbroken glasses of the same design. He balances a cube of Lefteres’s sesame halva on the edge of each saucer. The visitor has wiped a small section of the table clean with a handkerchief, a landing pad for the hovering saucer.
“If it’s about the news feeds . . .” Georgios says. He lowers himself heavily onto the sofa. The two men’s faces are close over the table, too intimate for strangers.
“It’s nothing to do with the news feeds.” The man smiles to himself. “No that’s a . . . privilege. No, that will continue, you’ll be glad to hear.” He is nervous; his glass rattles. “Mr. Ferentinou, I have a confession to make. I am actually a player. I’m a trader in the Terror Market.” Now Georgios realises that the man may be in mild awe of him. “Longsightedson?”
Georgios cannot conceal his distaste. Anonymity is part of the rules. He likes it that the man at the low table at the Fethi Bey çayhane across the square, that driver tapping his fingers on the steering wheel impatient at traffic lights, that woman he passes at the frozen food section on his weekly trip to the supermarket, may be Terror Traders incognito.
“Thank you. I’m glad the game enjoys attention at such high levels. So what does MIT need with me?”
Bekdil puts his hands together.
“You are aware of the Haceteppe Group?”
“I was a founding member.”
“Forgive me. I was not aware. You may not be aware that MIT has recently set up a second research group with a much lower profile, working in parallel with the Haceteppe Group, based in Istanbul and using unorthodox and speculative techniques. We believe that the creative tension between the two methodologies may yield fresh insights into our security situation.”
Georgios Ferentinou turns his tea saucer so the spoon lies like a compass needle trained on Bekdir’s heart.
“You want me to join this group.”
Georgios laughs to himself, a heaving grunt of humour.
“Security must be in a pretty sorry pass if you need me to save the country. Why do you think I should have any desire to be part of this . . . ?”
“Kadiköy Group. Curiosity, Mr. Ferentinou?” Bekdir takes a small plastic phial with an inhaler nozzle from the jacket of his cheap suit and sets it on the little dusty table. “There’s a one-use number in there. Your questions will be answered there. The memory carbon is coded to your DNA, so if anyone else tries all they’ll get is a brief auditory hallucination of bird wings.” It does not surprise Georgios that MIT still holds his DNA. The State is always reluctant to relinquish its grip. “I’d be quick about it, though; the nano is time-coded. You’ll forget it one hour exactly after you inhale it.Well, thank you for the tea, Mr. Ferentinou, and whatever you choose, I will keep playing the Terror Market. It’ll be a different username though.” Bekdir offers a hand. Georgios shakes it dazedly, hypnotised by the unlabelled translucent phial.
The djinn are waiting for Necdet as he comes blinking up the concrete steps from the Levent Business Rescue Centre into the sun-blast of drive-time. Djinn by the flock, djinn by the blizzard, watching from every rooftop and balcony and elevator shaft and window-washing cradle, perched on every streetlight and road sign and advertising hoarding, every electricity and telecom cable, jammed together on the roof of every passing bus and dolmuş, peering down from the glass cornices of the towers of Istanbul and the minarets of the ugly new mosque with its cheap silvery dome—there especially. The djinn have always been drawn to mosques. They flicker in and out of reality like cold flames, more than there are souls in great Istanbul.
“What?” he shouts at the waiting djinn. “What is it?” A woman bustling homewards stares. Eccentric is suspicious in this time when everyone has a grudge and a means to express it. Necdet glares at her; when he looks away, the plaza is empty, a million soap bubbles bursting silently, simultaneously.
Necdet takes the dolmuş. Bombs haunt the trams and metro. Most of Levent has made the same calculation. The Gayreteppe Road is clogged with trucks, intercontinental executive coaches, citi-cars and blue-and-cream dolmuşes. The little microbus starts and fits a metre at a time through the clog of traffic. Horns shout on every side; traffic policemen blow whistles. A three-quarters-empty tram sweeps past. Necdet is buried at the back of the dolmuş behind a ruck of cheap business suits, fearing djinn. He dreads the head, the woman’s head, the shining head. He glances out the window. A still, blue flame, as motionless as if carved from sapphire, hovers over the hood of every vehicle on Cumhuriyet Avenue. The djinni of internal combustion. Necdet closes his eyes and does not open them again until he hears the shared taxi pull into the great roaring traffic gyre of Taksim.
Walking down the sweating alleys between the lowering, exhausted apartment blocks, windows open, air conditioners rattling, Necdet feels the djinn as a closer heat, heat-within-heat, knots and whirls of electrical energy trapped between the old buildings. In Adem Dede Square, dark and filled with the whistlings of pigeon wings, they swirl, feeding on the exhalations of the trapped day-heat and the stench of rancid cooking fat from the Fethi Bey çayhane, making themselves solid. Necdet fumbles for the key to the big brass padlock. They’re at his back, piled high as a thunderhead. He can smell them like cooking oil.
“Necdet.” A woman’s voice, a voice he knows though it’s never spoken directly to him before. It’s the girl who helps at the art shop, walking down the steps between the dervish house and the teahouse. She is upside down. She is inside the earth. The steps, the square, the buildings are obdurately solid, but by some trick of djinn-sight Necdet can see into the earth and the woman walking there, her feet to his feet. She is identical to the shopgirl except that she is pregnant. She leans back, takes it easy on her back, her knees as she climbs the staircase. She stops on the step ahead of Necdet and looks up at him between her feet. She rests her hands lightly on her belly, sighs and labours on up the steps, climbing the imperceptible upward curve of her hollow world. A karin. They are minor spiritual beings—theologians differ over whether they are creatures of clay, like men, or fire, like the djinn—but they are no less capable than the djinn of envy and petty spite. Maiden aunts and dervishes and backstreet healers sometimes sense them; shaykhs hear and speak with them and may command them. All agree that each karin is a mirror, underneath the earth, of the life lived aboveground, guardians of the happiness and peacefulness of their siblings. Necdet staggers against the tekke door; it falls open.
“Ismet! Ismet! Man, I need you. Ismet!” Necdet stumbles into the kitchen, heart hammering. Ismet sits on one side of the cheap Ikea table, the Holy Koran in his hands. Ismet Hasgüler is one to whom the book speaks. His readings from the Holy Koran are light and musical and delight the ear. They cure ills, banish baleful influences, purify houses and bless children. When a woman comes knocking on the door with a question that has no answer in this world—and they are invariably women—in Ismet’s hands the book always falls open at the perfect ayah. Two women in headscarves sit across from him, close together.All look up, startled, as if guilty at having been caught divining God’s will. It’s her. The girl from the art shop, the sniffy one who’s never tried to conceal her contempt for Necdet. The one he saw upside down under the earth a few footsteps ago.
“I saw you,” Necdet stammers. He points. The woman recoils. The other woman, older, an aunt most likely, clings to her arm. “I saw you, outside. Just this second. Your karin, your earth sister. I saw her under the ground. She said my name. I saw you and you were pregnant.”
The young woman’s mouth and eyes are wide. Then her face crumples up into tears. She wails and hugs her aunt mother older sister.
A sign, a sign!” the older woman says, hands held up in praise. “God is good! Here, here.” She pushes euro notes at Ismet. He steps back out of his chair as if the money is poisoned.
“What?” Necdet asks. “What is it? What’s going on?”
“You are a real shaykh,” the art shop girl says, and Necdet realises that she’s weeping in shivering joy. “I heard about your brother, that he’s a good judge, very straight, very fair, very fast; so Uncle Hasan said after he sorted the problem with his cousin at the sports shop. And Sibel Hanım said he was very good with the word of God too after he drove the djinni out of her daughter’s bedroom mirror. But you, you’re the master of djinn. Two brothers together; that’s a force from God. Thank you, thank you so much, thank you!”
Necdet scoops up the soiled notes and throws them at the women. “Here, here you are then. Are you answered?”
“Yes,” says the art-shop girl. She touches her hand to her belly, the same gesture her sister under the earth had made. “Oh yes I am. God is very good indeed.”
Auntmothersister hears the crazy in Necdet’s voice, takes the art-shop girl by the hand and bustles her out of the kitchen into the street. The cash she leaves where it lies on the table among the tea glasses.
“What was that about?” Ismet demands. “You were incredibly rude to those women. Bundling them out like that. God willing, I’m trying to build some kind of reputation here, and that’s never going to happen if you scare away people who need my help.”
Necdet closes his eyes. The room swarms with half-glimpsed spiritual and emotional forces; the air buzzes with dread and energy.
“Listen. I was on that tram today, you know, the one where the bomb went off. I was on the tram. I saw the woman who did it. I saw her pull the strings and her head blew off. I was on that tram.”
“Oh man, why didn’t you tell me? You should be in hospital. Necdet, you need to go to the hospital.”
Necdet shakes his head, trying to shake off the dizzying buzz of another world.
“Doctors won’t help me. I see djinn. Do you understand that? I see djinn.”
Needles of yellow light fall onto Adnan Sarioğlu prone on the marble octagon. Steams wisps around him. Sweat pools on his belly—more fat there than he likes—trembles a moment, then rolls down his side onto the warm marble. He stretches. His skin pulls against the slab. Every bone and sinew glows as if hammered in a forge. The tellak’s steel fingers left no muscle unraked, no joint uncracked.
Ferid Adataş, proprietor of one of Turkey’s largest nonmilitary investment funds, is a member of the newest and most exclusive private bathhouses in the city. The hamam is fashionable again. The old bathhouses are appointment only; new private-members’ hamams open every week. It’s another post-EU incongruity. Spas are sissy, indulgent, European. Hamams are authentic and Turkish.
Drained on the slab under the starry dome—that bastard tellak had tried to get him to squeal like a virgin—Adnan melts into perfect relaxation. Muscles he did not know he possessed release and purr. Every cell is electric. Adnan gazes up into the dark dome pierced with concentric rings of circular skylights. He might be alone in a private universe.
Water splashes and runs in a film across the glass floor suspended above the mosaics. The Hacı Kadın hamam is a typical post-Union fusion of architectures; Ottoman domes and niches built over some forgotten Byzantine palace, years and decades of trash blinding, gagging, burying the angel-eyed Greek faces in the mosaic floor; century upon century. That haunted face was only exposed to the light again when the builders tore down the cheap apartment blocks and discovered a wonder. But Istanbul is wonder upon wonder, sedimented wonder, metamorphic cross-bedded wonder. You can’t plant a row of beans without turning up some saint or Sufi. At some point every country realises it must eat its history. Romans ate Greeks; Byzantines ate Romans; Ottomans ate Byzantines; Turks ate Ottomans. The EU eats everything. Again, the splash and run as Ferid Bey scoops warm water in a bronze bowl from the marble basin and pours it over his head.
“Great!” he roars. “Great.”
Ferid Bey hauls himself up from the warm glass and waddles across the floor to the steam cubicle. He is not a fat man or greasy from luxury, but his chest hair is grey and he is stiff in the hips. Adnan unseals himself from the slab and follows him into the marble-walled steam room. Beneath the glass floor, subtly lit Patriarchs and Palaeologi gaze up at his balls. Ferid Bey spreads his legs wide and settles back against the marble wall. Adnan matches Ferid Bey’s comfort. For the first time in months he feels properly alive.
“I’ve had a look through your more detailed projections,” Ferid Bey says. Water drips from the hem of the peştemal wrapped around his waist. “The only obvious flaw is that you’re asking me to become a gas smuggler.”
“We think of it as an alternative supply chain.”
“Tell that to the judge if you get caught.”
It’s in the air. It’s that long ball crossed into the box that the wind gets underneath and floats. Anyone could get to it. Adnan must trust his own skill.
“They’re just flaring it off. The Tabriz pipeline can’t handle the volume, so they burn it. Whoosh. Like setting a match to a suitcase full of euro.”
“I don’t believe it’s as simple as turning a stopcock with a spanner.”
“Oğuz our pipeline man says it’s two commands on a computer. Close that; open this. Clickety-click.”
“So tell me, how did you find out about this?” The two men lean close to each other in the tomb-narrow confines of the steam room.
“While everyone else spent their military service in the Land of Opportunity bitching and whining about how the Kurds were going to turn them into eunuchs if they caught them, I used my time a little more profitably.”
“And how did you find the East?”
“It’s a shit-hole. But it’s our shit-hole.”
Sweat gathers in a bead on Ferid Bey’s chin, swells, drops to the glass floor, a flaw in the eye of the mosaic saint.
“I’m an investor, not a scientist, but I need to be sure it’s safe. I can’t go irradiating Greeks, much as I’d like to.”
Adnan smiles at the joke, but he thinks, He said I. I can’t go irradiating Greeks. He’s buying into it.
On that day everyone remembers Adnan had been repairing wetsuits on the quay. That day was bright and the sun was high; it was early in the season and the first dive boats were going out to the drowned Lycian towns. Fresh-looking Swedish girls and short intense Danes were the best of the early arrivals. Scandinavians liked a man who looked busy in an intricate task. News burbled on the flatscreen set up under the awning at the Octopus Bar for the sport. Adnan worked on the quay, not the boats, and so always knew what was happening before anyone else, and what it might mean. So that day at the wetsuits his half-listening ear picked up the newsreaders’ change of tone and he turned his full attention to the screen. Grave expressions, a ticker along the bottom of the picture, shaky camera work of a sky lit by flashes beneath the horizon. Adnan set down the glue gun and drifted toward the edge of the bar. Adnan’s interested. Every head on the quayside turned. Men left their ropes, their dive gear, their boats, their vans and mopeds. The Swedes and Danes hung back, unsure of their right to participate in whatever the screens in the harbour bars were showing.
At eleven twenty Ankara time, Fandoglu Mountain in western Iran’s Azarbaijan province had been struck by forty missile-borne thermobaric warheads. Satellite footage showed blossom after blossom after blossom of flame unfold from the mountain-creased earth; beautiful as tulips. Fireball after fireball after fireball. New pictures, cell phone shot, showed a perfect mushroom cloud of fire climbing into the sapphire sky; then another. Then another. Then the footage shook and ended.
“Are those nukes?” a voice asked. “Someone’s using nukes!”
“No, it’s not nukes,” Adnan said, staring at the screen. “Vacuum bombs; they’re supposed to be safe and clean, though it’s pretty fucking academic if you get caught by one.”
“And how would you know?” an idle old man asked.
“I saw it on the Discovery Channel. They’re specifically designed for use against underground bunkers.”
“What would they have out there? It’s a hole in the ground.”
“It is now,” someone muttered.
“Only one thing,” Adnan said. “Real nukes.”
“That was Qom; the UN inspected it. Everyone knows that!”
“Qom was the one they wanted you to see.”
Then a voice simply said, “The Jews.” Topal had worked for twenty years out of Northern Cyprus up and down the Levant and was considered the most cosmopolitan man in Kaş. “The fucking Jews have finally done it!” The Octopus Bar exploded into roaring voices and waving fists.
“Shut up, I want to hear what’s happening,” Adnan shouted.What he could see of the screen showed a graphic of a red plume, like a cypress tree or a feather, going up thousands of metres into the air, leaning to the east like a pillar of smoke, towards Tabriz. The look on the newsreader’s face was beyond grave. This was apocalyptic. “Shut the fuck up!” Adnan roared into a momentary lull in the uproar. There was silence. “Thank you. Listen. Listen!”
Adnan tried to imagine the CG simulation onto real flesh and lives. A single thermobaric strike would turn the tunnels beneath Fandoglu Mountain into hell. Shock waves pulped human organs and shattered limbs and rib cages. The firestorm raced at near-supersonic speeds along corridors, through rooms into every level of the facility; those that survived incineration suffocated as the inferno consumed all available oxygen.What Discovery never showed was what happened when forty strikes, arriving in succession to create a continuous rolling explosion, were aimed at a pressurised water nuclear reactor. At the heart of Fandoglu Mountain, the controls were incinerated, backups turned to slag, fail-safes melted and jammed. Cooling systems failed; core temperature soared. Containment breached; the molten mass of the fuel core hit the cooling water. A titanic steam explosion sent a geyser of radioactive material blasting out from the tunnels and vents into the atmosphere. Carried on a westerly wind, the radiation plume was now fifteen kilometres high and a hundred long. Under Fandoglu Mountain not even a bacterium was alive.
The good-cheekboned Swedes and the chubby Danes had slipped away.
All the Kaş men were in the bars, the restaurants, the çayhanes, watching television. In their homes the women came together around their flatscreens. The terror unfolded. The plume had touched down on the Marand gas field eighty kilometres to the east. Everything died. The field would be unusable for a generation. Tabriz was being evacuated. Prime Minister Yetkin had promised the help of the Turkish people. Adnan watched footage of an old woman hosed clean of fallout particles. She held her hands up, turned her face up to heaven, not knowing that it was from there that the poison dropped. The Knesset confirmed in a press conference that it had attacked and destroyed Iran’s nuclear facility at Fandoglu Mountain. Silence became muttering. Two words were said again and again: fucking Jews. Then someone threw a stool. It struck the TV and set it swinging on its stand. A cheer went up. Hands tore down the traitorous screen. Tables were smashed, chairs broken. The bottles behind the bar were shattered one by one and the hanging mosque lamps torn down and ground into the floor. The men ransacked the Octopus Bar. That was not enough. Someone set a fire. It fed greedily on the smashed wood and alcohol. When the staff tried to fight it with extinguishers the men pelted them. At midnight the roof fell in in a spray of coals and sparks. The next morning the building was still too hot to approach. Adnan could not understand it. In their anger at the Jews and their American stoolpigeons the people of Kaş had destroyed the livelihood of their own neighbours. All across Turkey, across the reach of Islam, that self-mutilation was mirrored in burnings and bombings and small pointless martyrdoms.
For a time the world teetered on a brink. But Israel had calculated shrewdly. Iran threatened to close the straits of Hormuz to oil traffic; the US fleet moved against it. With millions displaced, Tehran realised it could gain the upper hand by playing the victim. Pakistan blew and blustered and bombed embassies but backed down faced with the patient might of its superpower neighbour India. Afghanistan continued its long self-immolation, as exquisitely worked as a carpet. Syria’s call for the destruction of Israel was no more than posturing, a ritual shouting of insults. Those thermobaric cruise missiles and worse were only minutes from Damascus. China protested and threatened sanctions, but its own slow environmental apocalypse was more intimate and threatening. India showed refined displeasure. The European Union lectured. The South Americans mouthed moral outrage, but they were downwind of no one’s fallout. The US Security Council veto blocked any formal condemnation from the UN. The Russians issued stern reprimands and thin threats but were secretly pleased that the massive Western Iranian gas fields had effectively been put of production for decades, buried beneath the slow snow of radioactive dust that was all that remained of the Fandoglu Mountain nuclear facility. The world staggered, then picked up its step again. The general dance spun on.
And in Turkey, by the turquoise Mediterranean, on the day after that day everyone remembers, a seaside surf-shop boy brought in a case of cheap ninety-nine-bead rosaries and sold them all within the hour at 300 percent markup.While Kaş waited for the sky to open and the Mahdi to utter the secret hundredth name of God to end the world, Adnan witnessed a different miracle, that of the market.
Fifteen years after Fandoglu Mountain, Western Iran is still a radiological burn zone, the border closed and its pipelines internationally embargoed. But that same surf-shop boy-turned-trader has found a way to channel unsalable gas through a long-disused, almost forgotten branch into the Nabucco pipeline that runs from the Caspian Sea to the Adriatic. Gas so cheap the Iranians are almost giving it away, gas that will net a fortune in the crazy heat of the Istanbul spot markets.
The deal is clever and intricate but robust. Adnan sets up the deal with the Iranians. The White Knight—Ferid Bey—puts up the liquidity. The Ultralords swap full-price Caspian gas for cut-price Iranian at a pumping station out in the deep east where the old, sealed-off Green Line from Iran meets the Nabucco pipeline from Baku. Everyone profits when the gas is sold on the spot market in gas-hungry Istanbul. Everyone ends in the money. But the deal is dead until Ferid Bey’s chop is on the contract.
“When do you close the deal?” Ferid Bey leans back against the hot marble. His belly lolls over the cheap plaid-weave cloth.
“The day before the weather breaks.”
“You can predict the weather? Then what do you need my money for? Tell me, I’m not the first; who else turned you down before you came to me?”
To let Adnan into this hot room, this hararet, this private Turkish bath, Ferid Bey will have researched him so thoroughly he will spot a lie before it’s on Adnan’s lips.
“A fair few of them are here tonight.” And you’ve already talked to them.
Ferid Bey stands up, slaps his thighs, his belly, shakes drops of sweat from his thick hair.
“Right. Enough of this. Come and rinse off. I like you, Adnan Bey. I know your paperwork, I know your figures, but I don’t know you. You’ve got balls, but I don’t like to do business with people I don’t know. Come to dinner, tomorrow. My place on Heybeliada. There’ll be a boat at Eminönü at eight. Are you married, have a significant?”
“My wife’s Ayşe. She trades in religious artwork.”
“Does she now? I like that. Women should have careers. I’d like to meet her.”
“There are the others I work with.”
“You’re the one I’m doing the deal with; you come and bring your wife. I’ll have a few other friends over.”
“So when can I expect a contract?” Adnan says as Ferid Bey slips into his wooden hamam clogs and totters across the wet glass to the basins.
“Plenty of time. We’ll talk tomorrow. Dress informal.”
Adnan Sarioğlu bows his head and lets sweat beads roll down either side of his nose, merge at the tip to swell and drip into the glass floor. He breathes in the hot, aromatic vapour. It burns his nostrils, but it smells of money.
The air in the bedroom is hot and clinging and motionless, but Ayşe in her underwear shivers and dives into the new dress. Once you leave your childhood bedroom you can never be comfortable or warm in it again. She shakes the dress down over her breasts and shoulders, adjusts the fall and hang, then turns to look at herself in the mirror on the old closet. So many reflections, so many dresses and undresses in that mirror, so many admirings of herself: the flatness of her belly, the fullness of her breasts, the cut of her jaw and the firmness of her arms, the quest for the first curl of a pube or the proud swell of a tit that marked the end of childhood and the flowering of womanhood. Ayşe remembers the first set of killing lingerie she smuggled in at the age of seventeen from the bold and brash new Agent Provocateur at Cevahir Mall, the long, luxurious ritual of putting it on, item by item, hooking and buttoning and strapping up all its complicated and inefficient fastenings, getting her pose just right so that when she turned to face the mirror it would be like a model swirling on a catwalk or a smoky twentieth-century lady spy meeting a contact in her red velvet boudoir. The static rub of thigh against thigh had amazed her, the tiny pink bows placed just so: that she could be so sexy. She could not keep her fingers away from the lace and mesh and gloss. She felt worth all the riches in Istanbul. Ayşe had lounged for hours on her bed exploring the sensations and emotions five pieces of gauzy fabric could bring out in a seventeen-year-old; catching sight of herself as a wild thing in that plain, stolid wardrobe mirror. She sat, legs wide, on the edge of the bed, smoking, studying her image. She dreaded and half hoped that the bedroom door would open and her mother catch her. She had discovered a sensual woman in this old room with its posters of girlie pop stars on the walls.
“Here I come, what do you think?” Ayşe strides down the hall that has smelled of cooking onions and trapped grease as long as she can recall and into the living room. Her mother sits in her chair in the window bay where she can survey both inner and outer worlds. “Now, it’s not designed to be worn with these boots, but will it do?”
“Do for what?”
“I told you ten minutes ago, this dinner with Ferid Adataş tomorrow.”
Tulip Apartment was a House of Memory. Ayşe had first encountered these
edifices in the pages of Renaissance writings from fifteenth-century Florence. There masters of the art of memory constructed fabulous Palladian palazzos of visualisation in which every hall and room and painting and statue, every piece of furniture and ornament on that furniture was the key to a painstakingly remembered fact. Contracts, legal cases, poems and discourses were parsed into phrases of memory and assigned to locations in the mnemonic palace. A walk from the portico through the vestibule and along the loggia could be a complex argument in logic; another walk from that same starting point, by way of a certain niche, into the withdrawing room to a balcony overlooking a formal garden of cypress trees like dark flames could be a family genealogy or a marriage contract. As the ties between Fatma Hanım’s memories grew less coherent Ayşe’s mother devised her own informal art of memory, investing the lamps and ornaments and family photographs, the books and years-out-of-date magazines and little jewelled boxes she loved so much with moments and recollections. She had set them at precise angles that Dicle the cleaner was forbidden from moving, for that would completely change the memory. A shift of twenty degrees might transmute a school prize into a cousin’s wedding; the brother’s graduation in the silver frame on the table beside the sagging sofa could, by a single move to the other side of the table, turn into New Year fire works for the turn of the century and be utterly lost. As even those associations disintegrated, Fatma Hanım had taken to sticking yellow Post-its inscribed with cryptic, SMS-like memos to her mementoes. She raged with the spectacular spite of the old at Dicle when the little aides memoires started disappearing. What had happened was that the glue dried out and the sun-paled yellow notes, the handwriting faded almost to invisibility, fell through the dusty air to the ground like leaves. Memory by memory Fatma Hanım was being indexed onto the Erkoç apartment. To Ayşe it seems like the necessary entropy of Fatma Hanım’s life as family archivist. While she and her sisters and brother, her cousins and aunts and the whole carnival of the extended Erkoçs ran around going to school and falling in love and getting married and having babies or careers or both and splitting up and living big and wide, her mother picked up the memories, cleaned them off and arranged them in sense and place for when they might be needed, years or lifetimes later. Now the house was too full of rememberings and Fatma Hanım too empty of them. To her that was success: it was all written, had you eyes to read it.
“Mother, what do you think?” Ayşe’s sister Günes calls. Fatma Hanım’s gaze had been sliding fromAyşe to the veins on her hands folded in her lap, the annotated ornaments on the mantel, the blue flicker of the television in the corner farthest from the light. The ebb of her mother’s memory had grown stronger in the past three months, sucking details and names and even faces out into forgetting. Fearful of water left running and gas hissing in the kitchen, Günes had moved in with the children. Recep and Hülya, her nine- and five-year-old, cantered around the apartment heedless of meaningless heirlooms and carefully positioned aides memoires, liberated by the sudden spaciousness of the generous old Ottoman rooms. Ibrahim, her husband, remained at the crammed little modern apartment at Bayrampaşa. Günes had been waiting years for this. She had long wanted the messy and unpredictable being-married part of her life to be over so she could fold herself back into family. She had always been a carer and a coper. Ayşe had always been a chaser and a smoker. Günes’s haughty moral superiority, her mother’s enduring grey disappointment that Ayşe had married beneath herself, did not trouble Ayşe anymore. God or DNA had ordained it. You don’t argue with them.
“Yes, lovely dress dear; what did you say it was for?” Fatma Hanım asks.
“The dinner, out on the Princes’ Islands.”
“The Princes’ Islands? Who would you know out there?”
“I think you mentioned that name. Who is he? Do we know him?”
“He’s an investment fund manager. A businessman, very successful.”
Fatma Hanım shook her head.
A diplomat, a bureaucrat or a nouveau eurocrat; even a member of that most endangered species, a prince: that was the kind of society the Erkoçs enjoyed in the Princes’ Islands when Fatma and the most dashing captain in the Northern Sea Command would be whisked out to a ball in a navy launch by smartly uniformed ratings, the red star and crescent billowing behind them. Businessmen have fingers yellow with money. Businessmen have beady peery eyes from looking at the bottom line, not the dazzling horizon of the blood-dark Black Sea.
“He’s a friend of Adnan’s.”
Fatma Hanım’s gaze slides away again. That’s it said now, good and proper. Business. Not a decent society thing at all. Across the room in the chair by the window where the light is good for needlework, Günes presses the tip of her tongue to her lips in a soft lizard-hiss of disapproval. That name is not to be spoken in front of Fatma Hanım’s cameras and microphones. Any reminder of what her youngest daughter could have and refused to marry into moved the easy tears of old age.
Ayşe kisses her mother on the forehead. The camera will show glossy lips parting, swelling; her face filling up the recorded memory. As she closes the living room door Fatma Hanım asks again, “Where is it she’s going?”
“The Princes’ Islands,” Günes says patiently.
The Marmaray out from Sirkeci is solid with bodies. Ayşe strap-hangs under the Bosphorus. The carriage smells of electricity and the light is migrainous. There is fear in the train: everyone knows where there was one bomb there will be another, from the same group or from another wanting a shine of the glory. Ayşe tries not to imagine a bomb in this deep tunnel. She tries not to imagine the blast of white light, the roof cracking open, the tunnel splitting, the water blasting in like a knife under millions of tons of pressure. The train sways over points; blue lighting illuminates the tunnel. Ayşe knows everyone else thinks the same thought. Deep tunnels, tall buildings, fast trains and high-flying aircraft—all these things are irresistible to angry males. All these things defy God.
A million euro and she never has to do this again.
Tonight the dolmuş winds interminably between the spindly apartment blocks of Ferhatpaşa. Roads; eroded, dusty verges; concrete façades and the scrubby hillside are doused in yellow light. Ayşe can no longer stand the ugliness. Amillion euro would take her across the Bosphorus, back to Europe again. Kids hang around the lobby of the apartment block. Doesn’t the new mosque run some kind of youth club? He’s not home. He won’t be for hours. After the hamam, there’ll be drinks, more talk. She won’t wait up for the signature purr of the Audi pulling into the parking lot. The apartment is still with trapped heat and smells of fabric conditioner. Ayşe can hear upstairs’ television through the floor. Whatever channel they watch seems to consist of constant cheering. She drinks cherry juice from the carton, so cold it hurts. Ayşe lays out tomorrow’s clothes on her dresser. It is bliss to unzip and slip off the boots, a ridiculous fashion in such weather, but the fashion nonetheless. She slips naked beneath the sheet, but even that is too much covering. Sleep won’t come. Ayşe tries her comfortable side, her less-comfortable side, her back, moving to the cooler part of the bed, arranging one leg over the other so, one arm under the other so. Nothing. Her mind races. She sees Adnan at the bathhouse, so serious, as he is so beautifully serious when he does business; Adnan over drinks—he loves a party, but he will always be at least one drink behind his host. She imagines the dinner tomorrow; the men talking to each other about football and politics and deals, the women around the table discussing family and gossip and society. And what do you do to pass the time, Ms. Erkoç? I’m on a quest for a Mellified Man. Which is more absurd in Istanbul, a legend bubbling up out of a magical past or turning down a million euro on the smell of a man’s aftershave?
She pulls on a robe to make the call. Akgün takes a moment to recognise her name.
“Ms. Erkoç. Forgive me, what can I do for you?” She catches a phantom wisp of Arslan aftershave.
“Your Mellified Man.”
“I’ll do it.”
Cover Illustration © Stephan Martiniere
Design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke
Ian McDonald is the author of many science fiction novels, including Brasyl, River of Gods, Cyberabad Days, Desolation Road, King of Morning, Queen of Day, Out on Blue Six, Chaga, and Kirinya. He has won the Philip K. Dick Award, the BSFA Award, and a Hugo Award, and has been nominated for a Quill Book Award, and has several nominations for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. He lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Visit him online at ianmcdonald.livejournal.com.