082: Adhesionless

Adjective: adhesionless (comparative more adhesionless, superlative most adhesionless) – Lacking adhesion

TODAY on flaglock: J39M discusses (in a long rant) more of his troubles, and how a touch of music solves many problems. Once again, he’s caught up in a most amusing game to the death.

For posterity I must note that I am straight. Straight straight straight. I am not in denial (which it does seem like, doesn’t it?) or confusion. I am not bi, not gay, not trans, not nothing; while I am all for equal rights for everybody, I happen not to be in any of the commonly persecuted groups (unless we’re counting nerds). There is no homosexual / incestual fantasy material ahead, but if that’s all that you can pick up, you are a poor reader indeed. I also happen to be completely hapless in the department of romance, but this is through ineptitude rather than choice or sexual orientation.

“And now, behold!” cried Professor Yano, tearing the tarpaulin away.

I thought I was looking into a mirror. But I blinked and realized that I looked upon myself – but not quite myself. His hair was shorter and better-kept. The neck wasn’t quite so long. He was neither bowlegged nor fat: his legs and stomach both looked well-toned. His skin was a beautiful, homogeneous color, free from acne, scars, or other defects. Even his face had been machined to be more handsome than mine.

“Behold, Julian 2.0!” the professor swept a grand gesture. “Not perfect, maybe, but isn’t he wonderful?”

My mouth was dry. I nyup‘d once or twice before managing: “He is … complete?”

“Down to the last memory which you just transferred into his system,” said Yano, glancing at the screen of his phone. “So he’s 99% you, if you generously weight your last five minutes of memories as 1% of your identity. Not all of his temperament will be quite the same, though, I think … some modifications … adjustments … well, anyway –

“Number Two!” proclaimed Professor Yano. “Rise!”

And Julian 2.0 opened his eyes. The first expression that crossed his face was a beautifully formed smile. His teeth were pearly-white and straighter than any orthodontist could want.

“Hello, Julian,” he said. I could hear an imaginary string quartet playing in the background for him. “I am Number Two.” What a voice. He could join an A Capella group as a star tenor.

“Hey, Number Two,” I croaked. “A pleasure.”

Number Two positively beamed. He leaped from his cradle and pumped my hand furiously up and down. “I’ve always wanted to meet you, my original, right? I mean, I was born just now and that means ‘always wanted’ doesn’t mean much, but you know, clones’ instinct, right? We love our originals just because – oh, look at me go on!” he laughed, an elegant sound that might have woodwinds backing it. He shared my pompous speaking style, but spoke with greater candor and without any hint of tension.

“He’s a gem!” crooned Professor Yano. Number Two turned to him and swept him a bow. “And you, my father, I recognize with gratitude,” he said humbly. “I mean, my family is actually your family,” he said hurriedly to me, “but you know, Professor Yano here, made, manufactured, er, created me?” he stopped short and laughed merrily again, greatly amused with his own failures in articulation. I smiled stiffly. I felt awkward.

An excited train ride later (Professor Yano and Number Two were hard at work swapping compliments, with a few directed at me now and then – I accepted these with little nods), we were back at school, and Professor Yano hurried Number Two into the dorm.

“Hey! Hey! Everyone, meet Number Two!” the Professor couldn’t stop bubbling with excitement. It was contagious: every one of my suitemates was charmed by Number Two, and before long we were all settled in the common room, listening to Number Two recount stories familiar to me (my life, my stories), but told with such renewed wit that nobody in the room could stop laughing. (I forced out a few grins, so not to kill the mood.) A word from Number Two was enough to elicit anything from quiet titters to roaring laughs; I could only keep silent.

Everyone was still grinning broadly after midnight, when Number Two announced that it was time for bed. “Because I’m a good boy who sleeps early and wakes early,” he declared proudly, sending chuckles around the room. “But, ah, Professor, where …?”

“We can shleep together,” I ventured, biting my tongue.

“Whoa. Awk,” said Marco. Another laugh went around.

“Not at all!” said Number Two defensively. “I’m him and he’s me; we’re both ‘me’ and we both know we’re completely straight. We’ve had practice sleeping in cramped spaces so – ”

I was already halfway to our room, trying not to hear the laughs from the common room over another one of my snippets retold by Number Two.

I awoke later that night to my own face – perfectly crafted, acne-free, beautiful – and rolled right out of bed. Number Two turned over and made a gentle cooing noise, but did not wake, no more did Professor Yano.

I stood up and regarded my sleeping form for a full sixty seconds. My mind was colored vaguely, clouded with a red tint that telegraphed disquiet. I grabbed two towels and simply left the room, left the suite, pivoted right, picked the lock on the supply closet, and crawled in, burrowing into the cleaning agents and mops and other awful things. I pulled my two towels over myself as makeshift bedsheets, and, shivering (warm as it was), went to sleep again.

I woke to the sound of taps on the door. I groped groggily for the doorknob, and, upsetting a few cans, opened up. Number Two smiled at me, a little shyly. “I’m sorry, I hope you didn’t have a rough night,” he said. “Was it something I did?”

“No,” I said. It wasn’t really a lie, but it wasn’t the truth. “I like sleeping out here.” That was a lie.

Number Two, probably through the Professor’s meddling, had clearly been trained to trust people far more than I myself did. He grinned. “I wouldn’t have guessed it! I knew it, I knew it – the original is by far a much, much more interesting person than the clone!”

That, too, was a lie, but he didn’t know that. I laughed bitterly with him; he misread my tone and his expression grew anxious. “I’m sorry, I woke you, didn’t I? Go back to sleep; d’you want me to buy some lunch for you?”

“No,” I grunted, sinking back between two vacuum cleaners. “I’ll eat later.” So saying, I closed my eyes and feigned sleep. Number Two closed the door with great care and returned to the suite.

I opened my eyes, staring down the business end of a mop. This supply closet was to be my new home.

When I next woke, it was because the sounds of the rec-room piano reached my ears clearly: someone was playing with great technical facility, and singing along with equal ease. It was “Gangnam Style,” arranged for piano with incredibly insightful knowledge of harmony, pianistic texture, and virtuosity. It much resembled my work with arranging Joe Hisaishi’s music: but it was completely out of my league. I heard Number Two energetically belting out the vocal part, singing with a confidence and a tone that I could never manage. Cheers and clapping quickly followed these sounds, and I pulled the towels over my ears, blotting out all sound, and sunk again into oblivion for another long period.

And after that, Number Two came to call again. “Hey there!” he said excitedly. “Feeling better now?”

“I was fine in the first place,” I said testily. My eyes moved to the girl with Number Two. He followed my gaze and his charming smile went full power. “You know her! We’re going out now!”

My heart sank. I’d talked to her a few times, and that was the extent of it … “Congratulations!” I said, trying to subdue my annoyance. Number Two poked her affectionately and she giggled. I felt sick. “I’m sleepy,” I said shortly. “But you’ve slept – ” began Number Two. “Bye.” I shut the door on his protests. Just before the chink in the door narrowed to nothing, I caught a last glimpse of his face – marred with concern, sadness, and some disappointment. There was neither resentment nor frustration – but an incredibly pure desire to please me and to earn my approval. I felt sicker than ever, and pulled the towels over my head again.

Nobody came to look for me. I slept without interruption.

It was evening when I next woke, roused again by the rec-room piano. Number Two, live in recital, played F. Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat Major, Op. 53 – a piece very close to my heart. As with “Gangnam Style” – but in a different, more conservative vein – he played with an assertiveness that made the piece sound carelessly easy, but still marvelously musical. There were the rippling transitory chords, and then the main theme. I could hear myself playing, but it wasn’t me: it was better than me, superior in every way. A changing section, and the main theme again; then the running octaves which I never mastered, tossed off effortlessly by the infinitely more powerful hands of Number Two.

Thus passed the first five minutes of the piece. I could only admire, from inside the dark supply closet, the musical ability of Number Two.

And after the octaves, a heart-breakingly beautiful section, played at a delicate pianissimo that I thought impossible on that battered piano.

The music ended there for me. It petered down, quieter and quieter, but at any moment ready to return to the triumphant finale. I did not let it finish. I stuffed my ears again, pushing a firm stopper into the music. I would not be lied to: there was no joyous, conciliatory ending that made everyone happy. I shut my eyes and voluntarily jailed myself again in the dark. I didn’t want to wake up again.

A night later, I crawled out of the closet, in search of a glass of water. The sounds of the rec-room piano echoed gently up the stairwell, ghostly as the lunar glow. It was Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade, again arranged wondrously for piano. I slithered down the stairs, intrigued in spite of myself: only Number Two could play like that.

I stopped dead at the foot of the stairs: through the glass doors of the rec room, there she was, sitting at the piano with Number Two. They were staring into each other’s eyes – drat that Number Two, he didn’t even need to look at the keyboard to play that well. Their eyes closed, their faces drew together –

I turned and fled up the stairs, diving back into the mops and cleaning agents, pulling the towels over my head. I couldn’t bear to think about it.

Months later, I left my hidey-hole and found that Number Two had gone. He’d packed his bags and traveled elsewhere to continue his education, leaving a vacancy for me. But nobody had remembered to inform me; nobody had so much as noticed that I’d ever gone. They empty half of Professor Yano’s room was just assumed to be reserved for Number Two’s possible return.

The first few days, people kept mistaking me for Number Two, running excitedly up to me before noticing my shamble, my features, my acne, and slinking away with the quiet revelation that I had existed, still existed, even before Number Two came and even after he left. His girlfriend actually had one arm flung around me before she recoiled, a look of revulsion on her face, which she quickly wiped away. She gave me a cold smile, an empty apology, and turned to leave.

That hurt. I stood there, arms frozen in a half-hug.

At the end of the day, I locked myself in the rec-room, with only the piano for company in the dark. Clumsily, my hands found the keys for F. Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat Major, Op. 53. I did my best to duplicate Number Two’s performance – which was, after all, originally mine – but broke down in the running octaves. My left hand fell to my my side, limp and useless; my right forged on, out of rhythm and with all the wrong articulations.

And I broke through into that lyrical, heart-wrenching section. Only my right hand played; the piano degraded into a cheap music box. An exaggerated ritardando crept into the piece, and my right hand, too, fell to my side before I could return full force to the main theme. The music struggled and died.

What a depressing story. And now to more happy things: a pointless but heartening triumph for J39M.

William arbitrarily assigned us “subjects of study” based on colors we chose. I was shoved into sociology. But my power was the best, second only to Anita’s “lampshading” (English major).

For most of the game, I played defensive: I first used my charisma to gather most of the educated / wise people of the village. We fled to the hills and excavated an underground town for ourselves. Michael and the others paid no attention to this controlled disappearance.

From then on, I wove an intricate web of secrecy and shenanigans around the others, conveying all my moves to gamemaster William by typing them up on my laptop and letting him read them. Not only did I actually not use my powers to their fullest (according to Will – I wonder just WHAT I could have done), but I had the amazing advantage of numbers, and thus lack of constraint on the size and scope of my moves per turn. The first thing we did in earnest, though, was hold a formal name-changing ceremony for each and every one of ourselves, so that we no longer answered to our original names and could not know each others’ names any more. This was to prevent Anita, who had a “story-book” power, from manipulating us by name. Should she have made the move that “Julian will reveal himself, then kill himself,” there would be no effect, as there would be no “Julian” in existence to effect such an action.

Our tunnels grew ever more extensive and our social web stronger and stronger. It was a good move on my part to take the educated and wise with me; they gave my powers fiat, because they could be interpreted as “society,” whereas the other three acted mostly alone. My “social constructs” were given legitimacy by virtue of homogeneous agreement.

When Michael the shoe-maker cruelly transformed Marco into an expanding, oxygen-robbing cube, I asked a loaded question that carefully set the stage for our safety underground. To be sure, though, we built a system of expandable breathing tubes that would stick up out of the ground, high into the air, above the cube-of-no-oxygen, so that we could breathe in the worst-case scenario. Anita was turned into a potato, and then a block of uranium; Michael turned himself into a diamond human, immune to asphyxiation and most frontal assaults.

My people were trained in martial arts, so that we could fight to the last breath if need be.

Marco expanded to the very boundaries of the map (no, we couldn’t flee the country) and there he stopped. Michael, having exploded Anita, asked William if he could claim victory. “No, because Julian’s still alive,” said William, completely nonplussing the transforming duo. I kept a straight face and continued constructing my plans.

From there, I made two separate offers to Marco: sanctuary and freedom from his slavery, only asking that he cooperate with us in exchange. This offer was eventually withdrawn and Marco was allowed to be destroyed. But in that final turn before his destruction, I made some extra-sneaky moves: I redefined “life” in the game to mean possessing both consciousness and agency. Marco, lacking the latter, could be pronounced to be dead by my terms (as could Anita, who had been turned into pure energy). I began appending “by fiat of my powers” to the end of each move so that William would understand their social nature. As an extra pre-emptive move, I also assessed my karma against Michael’s and declared that my death was still my victory, having done nothing with ill will throughout any of the game, whereas Michael’s death would be an empty, meaningless thing.

All of this was, of course, done in secret, to prevent easy counters from the others.

Michael, as a final move, sent a burst of gamma-rays across the map, destroying pretty much everything. William left out the final detail: whether I was dead or alive. I was pretty far underground, apparently.

“Everyone’s dead,” said William carefully, “But Julian won.” This drew incredulity from the others; I laughed delightedly.

There was a lively debate for some time afterwards about the nature of winning, which didn’t go anywhere.



1 thought on “082: Adhesionless

  1. Kako

    To J39M-san:
    Why must Professor Yano create Number Two. Why must you linger near your shell, replaced by your ultimate perfection.
    Yours Truly


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