In ’73 in a dark suit in the back of a rickety old taxi near Kızılay, Ankara heading toward Ulus, the man known there as Aspire rested his head on the window and eyed the crowds of people as he sped past. Aspire had given the driver a hefty tip when he sat in the backseat, urging him to risk as much as possible to ensure that he would arrive on time.
Aspire tapped his finger on his chest rhythmically, counting the seconds to their destination. His count was nearing 2000 which was unfortunate because he hoped they’d have arrived by 1500. They were stopped by a mass of people crossing the street as if for no other reason than to delay him. Aspire pictured them piled atop each other in the middle of the night, only illuminated by the trash fires, something he’d want to prevent. Traffic had stopped to gridlock. Aspire bent forward and began to re-lace his shoes. On the left, he laced it in Xs but skipped the second hole on the right side of the shoe. It was to convey “abort.” On the other shoe, he pulled his left lace up through the top right hole and worked it down the right side and repeated the same thing on the left side of the shoe and tied them at the bottom. It was to convey “contact lost.” Hopefully, it was enough.
The legions milling about in the markets transformed from shoppers into voters standing in queues of public buildings. The ancient city became older the further they drove into Ulus. They passed old Atatürk, the larger-than-life bronze statue of the father atop his horse displayed proudly on a giant block of white stone. Aspire struggled to contain a grin when he saw the monument. Good, he thought, it’s still there.
Aspire became aware that the national anthem creaking from the cab’s radio had repeated six times. That disconcerted him. Six was dangerously close to sixteen, given the circumstances. Seventeen meant borders would have to be redrawn.
Staging a coup is a delicate procedure. Aspire believed that, when detonating a cultural warhead, it was much like the construction of an automobile. A manufacturer hopes it will drive at least out of the lot before breaking down. If the gear shift didn’t align properly with the transmission, it would grind to a halt; if the steering wheel didn’t rotate the tires, it could never go the right direction; if the engine didn’t have a proper way to ventilate and expel exhaust, the vehicle would explode. Interchangeable parts become the opposite when they seize the engine, lest he and his colleagues forget the violence of a power vacuum. Sometimes, the pistons would just run too hot to safely give the key to a buyer. After all, he may just turn the ignition and boom.
Aspire grunted at how long the cab had been stopped by the crowd in front of them. The driver noticed this and, when he saw an opening, jumped the curb onto the sidewalk and navigated between two schools of pedestrians.
“Thank you,” Aspire said in Turkish. They thumped over the curb and back onto the road. The driver accelerated in an attempt to make it through a nearby stop before any more untimely obstacles and blew through the intersection. Immediately after, sirens and lights blared in the midday behind them. Aspire looked out the back window and pulled more money out of his pocket at the same time. The driver swore in Turkish and pulled over.
“Just let me out here,” Aspire said and patted the driver’s shoulder with the bribe. He nodded and Aspire continued on foot. He passed several buildings and eventually the city opened to another mostly empty concrete courtyard like that of the Atatürk from before. He went for a queue across the square that was short because it was the designated to be. It needed to in case something went wrong, in case Aspire needed to do exactly that.
A sky writer flew overhead. Aspire hadn’t noticed him until the message was already complete. The network had no sky writer, but Aspire still related to the message: “Don’t forget to vote!” the bulbous, cloudy letters read against the empty blue. While Aspire agreed with the sentiment, what the sky writer didn’t know is that Aspire’s vote was more important than anyone else that day.
Within the queue, he scanned for familiar faces. Five minutes passed before he spotted one posing as a police officer. When the officer saw him, he approached the line and asked for voting certificates as a “routine” gesture. When he reached Aspire, he held his hand out for papers and looked at his shoes and, minutes later, spoke into a radio. Thirty seconds after that, a woman emerged from inside the building and split the queue. She counted them off.
“One, two, one, two,” she said as she moved down the line. She put Aspire into the shorter queue and, with some clever construction of events, his line moved quicker because there were two processors of ballots.
Once in the booth, Aspire drew a voting ballot and eyed it carefully. Two, one, three, four—the code he studied for months. He knew what it would look like half a year before any other civilian had laid eyes on it. Hell, he helped write the damned thing. There were nine separate votes on the drab, paper ballot. 126 messages to memorize, but Aspire only needed one. He filled in the printed squares on the ballot with a pencil attached to a chain. “If we proceed, the rest will fall to the bear.”
Aspire handed the ballot to the clerk who filed it into a different drawer. He thought he could hear the rifle fire of failure and his only hope was that he could say “maybe next time” one more time. If not, he was prepared to light the fuse, admit a mistake.
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