THE BEST-CASE SCENARIO – A ❝Flying Balloon❞ Story

Kayıp Rıhtım was originally founded on fantasy and science fiction, and today it is a platform that touches every aspect of literature and life. It started broadcasting in the first month of 2008. In addition, they have been publishing a selection of short stories on a different theme every month for thirteen years.

I took part in the March 2022 selection with the theme of Uçan Balon (Flying Balloon) with my story called En İyi İhtimal (The Best-case Scenario). The original link is in Turkish, but you can read it in English here – thanks to Enes Talha Coşgun for the translation.

She was asleep the whole trip. She was barely able to move her head from the blue-flowered seat thanks to announcements made to the attention of the bus drivers whose departure time was overdue and to the rumble of the crowd and the men selling tea, coffee, and other beverages through pushing iron counter with wheels. Before getting off the bus, she had to wait a few seconds to get her balance, close her eyes tightly and rub her temples. If she didn’t mind strangers gathering over her, she’d slap herself.

After everyone left, she stood up and stepped out carefully. Her hair had lost its volume by getting wet with sweat, and her clothes had become as heavy as a hand-carried coat in the spring. “Look what the woman at the bus terminal did?” She would completely undress if she knew that she wouldn’t play the leading role of the news began with the lines “28-year-old Ç.N. …”. She confined herself to taking off her paving stone-colored tracksuit top and tying it around her waist. She relaxed a little more by doing that.

Her chest was thirsty, her stomach was on fire. She entered AŞTİ and approached the first buffet she saw. She bought sandwich and juice and paid a small amount of money in return. Her eyes widened with the expression on the seller’s face. She made a mistake. It was a momentary oversight that could ruin everything.

“Ma’am, that money…” the seller was going to say.

“Oh, sorry!” said the passenger, taking back the money she had given to the seller. “Yeah, it’s out of circulation. I gave you the wrong money. I was taking it to Central Bank. Sorry about that, take this, please.”

“Thank you.”

Çiğdem, -that was the name of her- who sat one of the chairs made of perforated sheet metal looked at the front face of the 20 Turkish liras worth of banknote, which she gave up giving to the seller at the last moment. On one side of the banknote, there was a pale note written with a lead pencil:

“Don’t forget Ghazali and Leibniz.”

Çiğdem swallowed, pressed her lips together, quickly hid the money in her pocket and started eating her sandwich. She was biting as big and fast as she could to take out her ambition. She would have screamed if she didn’t have a secretive and introverted personality. If she had focused on the situation she was in, she would have pulled out her hair until she was confined to the nearest asylum. She watched the passengers passing through to chill herself out a little. As she remembered the idea that the material appearance was a fluctuating “passenger” in a sea of possibilities, she stopped watching. Some issues related to quantum physics… She looked at the giant clock hanging from the ceiling and sipped the juice. Focusing on the flavors was making her relaxed.

When it was 12 noon, Çiğdem was startled. She set her sights on the nearest automatic door to platform 58 and started to waiting. She repeated the instructions given to her in her mind. Soon, an old woman wearing a hijab and shalwar and a boy with a shaved hair, a dirty face and a pale blue T-shirt came to the door.

The old woman didn’t look like she was going to board any bus. She was spreading stereotypical verses with sad melodies ripped from arabesque songs, showing her child and extending her palm. Çiğdem stood up after making sure who she was looking for, jingling the coins -didn’t taken out of circulation- in her pocket. She caught up with the beggar woman before she turned her back and left.

“Here you go, Ma’am.” she said, giving the old lady the coins. A little chocolate came out of the same pocket.

“And this is yours.” She looked into the boy’s eyes and smiled bitterly. “For the best-case scenario.”

While the child was trying to unpack the chocolate without saying anything, Çiğdem turned her head by hiding her tears. That was her business in Ankara, where belong to the time two hundred and fifty years ago.

Now she had to get on a bus heading towards Istanbul, get off in the halfway at a desolated rest station where she memorized its name, walk to an ownerless empty field, and find an iron hatch covered with soil. She had to open the hatch and go down to the structure in underground named MOSL, Manipulation of Subatomic Layout, and go back to the time she was born.

MOSL was designed as a transparent sphere large enough an average-sized person to fit inside in fetal position. The smaller the surface area, the less energy would be used. That was the reason why a spherical design was preferred.

The system was based on the replacement of subatomic particles with their opposite twins. That was making it possible to break away from the natural flow and go back and forth in time, also called the “arrow of time”. It was kind of like a flying balloon floating off the ground. Therefore, the parts of the system were given names pursuant to that similarity. The area reserved for the passenger was called “basket”, and the area where the particles collided was called “balloon”, this process was called “ignition”, and the temporal change was called “elevation”.

Çiğdem got in the basket of the device and waited for the device to detect her. She heard the confirmation sound coming from the device. Then it began to darken and even became silent, so that the passenger could no longer hear her own breathing.

The most fascinating part of the journey was beginning. Bright lights appeared everywhere just like the universe emerged from a fertile void. This flood of light, which resembled corals mixed with fireworks seemed just as if it was every color at the same time. Purples, blues, pale oranges, greens were interwinning, and pinks and oranges were fluctating. The distance of the images was unpredictable. Everything was both clear and blurry. It was like looking at a star on the other side of the universe, and adjacent to the wall of the sphere.

The woman’s ears were full of high-pitched voices. She was feeling as if hearing the voices of a little girl screaming, a baby crying like it was gonna tear its throat out, and nails scratching a flat surface. It was something harmonious in a strange way and wasn’t bothering her. It didn’t have a certain source; the sound was coming from wherever the woman turns her face. Sometimes she was hearing it in her head.

Çiğdem, who had received a strict training for her duty, knew that sounds and lights were related to her brain. The flames she saw were her own dreams, the screams she heard were her own true inner voice. Manipulation of Subatomic Layout was isolating the body from the external environment and affecting the communication between the nerve cells.

Another effect of the journey was to eliminate some changes made within the manipulated time frame. In general, this effect was quite restricted. For example, if Çiğdem had cut her hair in the bus terminal, this change would have been preserved substantially.

In the case of the paradox, the effect was very intense. The fact that a passenger went back in time and killed his/her grandfather would result in the passenger vanishing on the way back. So is the fact that the passenger reached his/her own childhood and gave him/her some information.

The trick was not to cause a self-paradox. The time traveler was safe as long as she did not take any action that would affect her own existence. Apart from that, she could affect the present by changing the past. By killing someone, she could eliminate her current projection. She could give information about the future to someone who lived in the past. But there was no room for error and she had to calculate infinitely possible consequences of a single job.

No one could be a time traveler except for those who had completed the necessary trainings and passed the exams. Very limited computer-defined changes were allowed. The only purpose of the changes was to find the best-case scenario; the long-term best case for the whole universe. Some of the laws made after the invention of MOSL were inspired by Isaac Asimov’s book The End of Eternity.

These were written in the regulations. And there was a feature that the time traveler had to possess that was not written anywhere: a sacrifice that could, if necessary, destroy his/her own existence. Even if this feature was not written, the law expected them to do so. It was not a valid justification for the cancellation of a necessary change if the timekeepers were harmed.

At the center of MOSL an officer was working who would smell his fiancé’s hair, kiss her for the last time and send her on a journey with directives that would destroy herself.

He said, “Find the beggar and the boy in the blue shirt at the location we specified. Keep them busy. My great-grandfather and his descendants will not be born. This chain of events will trigger the results that will lead to the fact that MOSL has never been invented.”

Then the system decided to eliminate itself. Because every prognostications about the near future was indicating that terrorists would abuse the system. Therefore, the change in the past should have served to prevent the invention of MOSL. A short distraction of a beggar child passing through the AŞTİ of the 2000s would reveal the most beneficial cause-effect relationships.

The only major side effect of this action was the absence of a past marriage. So that the great-grandfather of that timekeeper wasn’t going to be born. Therefore, the timekeeper and his family would not exist, but the negative consequences would disappear.

But for Çiğdem, that was madness. She held her fiancée’s hand and begged, “You can’t destroy ours to save the future of the universe. Are we going to destroy the system because the stupid computer shows that the system will be abused in the future?”

But the timekeeper accepted the situation with fortitude. He tried to calm the woman down until the day of the trip. He spent time with her, hugged and kissed her. Actually, he had no choice but to accept the situation. He was scared inwardly, even if he didn’t show it. This one, wasn’t death. It was not the deletion of someone from the book of the future who was existed once upon a time.  That was a total deletion from the line of history. Absence was an obscurity that the mind could not receive.

She was trying to get over the fear by whispering to herself, “God doesn’t forget. God never forgets his servant.”

When the big day came, Çiğdem talked about secretly writing his name on the banknotes she would take for camouflage. So that even if she had lost him, his name would still be written somewhere.

“Don’t write my name.” said her fiancée. “You won’t even remember why you wrote it. Just don’t forget Ghazali and Leibniz: Longing couldn’t be better than that.”

Those were the last words she heard. The words she wrote on the money… Don’t forget Ghazali and Leibniz.

She got out from the domination of lights. The basket opened. The journey ended. Çiğdem stepped into her current time.

She froze and bit her lips.

It was empty and cold in there. The power was off, the lighting and heating systems went out. Normally, MOSL would be bright and always crowded. Scientists and officials would never leave the center desolate.

A little further ahead, she noticed that an officer was waiting for her. When she realized that she knew him, her pulse began to beat fast enough to tear her skin apart. “Erdem…” she said, running. “Erdem, you…”

Erdem was her fiancée. He was the time attendant whose birth will be prevented at the end of the journey.

In the eyes of the woman, there was a deep disappointment. In a soulless, deep tone he asked, “What is your business here, ma’am?”

Çiğdem’s mind stopped. “I…” she stammered. “I did everything you told me to do, I did what the computer wanted me to do. I did it at the cost of you to vanish.” Her voice grew louder and turned into a yell. “I distracted the boy’s attention in the blue shirt. What’s going on? What happened to this place?”

“At the cost of me to vanish?” the man asked. His expression softened, but his attitude was still unfamiliar. “Have you been given a task, ma’am?”

Çiğdem was caught in a mood that gave her a desire to pluck her hair. “Are you out of your mind?” she shouted out loudly. “Why do you call me ‘ma’am’?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” said the other, astonished.

“What the hell are you asking about! We’re engaged.” she said, articulating the syllables harshly. “I… I don’t understand. When reality changes, we both need to adapt. If you didn’t know me in the new reality, I shouldn’t have known you either. Moreover, until now, the computer’s plan was never wrong, and by the end of the mission, you should have been vanished. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you’re here, I’m glad to know you, but… There is a big mistake.”

The man listened to her with a growing smile and then began to laugh loudly. The annoyed woman could do nothing but swallow and watch. The man barely calmed his laugh, “I’ll explain,” he said, breathlessly. “I must ask one last question. What was the purpose of the change? How did I consent to vanish?”

While Çiğdem explaining her task of stopping the terrorists, the disappointment in Erdem’s gaze traded places with admiration and happiness. He knelt down and put the woman’s hands on his lips, and kissed them on and again, like in the old days…

“What’s going on?” said the woman, taking her hand away. “You say you don’t know me, and then…”

“I loved you platonically in my own reality. I was afraid to explain my feelings because you were so stiff. So I had to pretend. It’s like a dream to see you love me that much.”

“I was so afraid I was going to lose you.” That was the last thing the woman said before she burst into tears and hugged her fiancé.

“I’m here, my love.” said Erdem. “We’re together now…”

Then Çiğdem pulled herself back, wiped her tears away, and asked, “Why has the power of the center been cut off?”

“Because there is no center anymore. There is no MOSL.”

“What?”

“I was the one who went on duty in my own reality.” said Erdem. “Our mission and purpose were the same. I was going to stop that boy in the blue shirt at the bus terminal in Ankara and prevent my great grandfather’s marriage. MOSL was going to be destroyed, but I was going to vanish also.

Çiğdem continued to listen without making a sound.

“I was cold blooded on the way to my duty. It was scary to vanish, but I didn’t care. I thought of you, I wished you to be happy. I thought it would be like falling asleep, but here I am.”

“What happened to me?”

“Nothing. The only explanation for what happened is that either you have somehow disappeared, or there is a parallel you are living in our old realities, unaware of everything.”

“Well, what about this place?”

“We’re in a flying balloon!” the man said cheerfully, opening his arms. “There is no power, because there is no outside. We are in an isolated parallel universe.”

“What do you mean there’s no outside?” said the other.

“It is free to try. Run to one side randomly and see.”

Çiğdem took a deep breath, put her foot forward, looked at Erdem for the last time and started running towards the exit. There was supposed to be a door in front of her, but now, the only thing that existed was darkness. As if she had a light source in her belly, the places she passed by were illuminated. Then the darkness completely dissipated and Çiğdem returned to Erdem in the opposite direction.

“What the heck is this?” she said breathlessly.

“I ran everywhere. I’ve tried everywhere,” said Erdem, crossing his arms. “The laws of physics seem to work the way they used to. There is neither a man, nor a way out. We can’t get out of a limited area.”

The woman was thinking, lost herself in a vague point.

“We’re in a flying balloon. In a tiny balloon that floats freely between universes.”

“What shall we eat and drink?”

“Huh?”

“We won’t be able to get out. We’ll have some needs. We don’t have time to wait for bacteria to evolve.”

“I…” said Erdem, holding his stomach. “I have never thought that.”

Çiğdem grimaced. “Come here.” Erdem said, pulling her to his side and pressing her to his chest. “We have three days until we are out of our minds with thirst.” In three days, maybe a spring appears, maybe the physical rules are changeable here and our bodies won’t need water anymore, I don’t know. I don’t care because I’m with you, with the one who loves me. The only thing that could make me suffer is your suffering.”

The woman opened her eyes, which she had closed. “Did you try to get downstairs?” she said with hope.

“No.”

“If the ground floor still exists, that place is a shelter you know, there was a warehouse in there.” There might be something.” They held hands. Çiğdem wasn’t sure if she was in an alternate reality or if she was having a dream close to reality. But no matter what, she was in a balloon and was going to enjoy it. Wasn’t the dream a balloon cast into the skies of the unconscious mind?

Choose list(s):

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *