Binary [Persona 3]

The cards were out of order, and he was putting them in order. The doctors told him the cards were in order when they came out of the box, but he knew that was just one of their tests, because K came after J, but way before Q, and all the sevens had to be thrown out because they weren't symmetrical on both axes; and neither were the face cards or the aces, but they were already special because they had letters, and letters were different from numbers. Also, Takaya was talking to him, but Takaya was one, and he did that a lot sometimes.

"Ullhodturdenweirmudgaardgringnirurdrmolnirfenrirlukkilokkibaugimandodrrerinsurtkrinmgernrackinarockar," said Takaya, sitting cross-legged facing Jin, on the other side of the cards. Jin liked to listen to him talk, especially now that Takaya's voice had fallen from its child-pitch to a grownup-doctor-pitch. Jin thought he sounded like thunder, not because his voice was low, but because Takaya was like thunder, and anyway it make sense because the thunder sounded sometimes like him. He also looked like the King of Spades, but only when he smiled. The Three of Hearts was next to the Four of Hearts, and Jin put them on either side of the spread, because siblings that close never got along well.

The inside of his head began to itch, inside past his skull where the blood was, where he couldn't get to with his fingers. He pushed his tongue against the roof of his mouth and began to blow like he was blowing out a candle, but it just got louder. Think of patterns. A perfect number is a positive integer which is the sum of its proper positive divisors. The second perfect number is twenty-eight. He would be twenty-eight in fifteen years, three months, two weeks, eight days, four hours, and ten minutes, if had been born in 1991, on the 20th of August, at 3:18 in the morning. That would be a Tuesday. He would have been born on a Tuesday.

Takaya was talking again, and Jin handed him the Queen of Diamonds to see if it would help. "Thank you," said Takaya, "but you looked like you were one two one three one two two, two four one one one two." He liked counting the syllables in Takaya's words. They were usually ones and twos for everyday things, but Jin could always tell when he was talking about something important because there were lots of threes and fours, and sometimes fives and sixes, and once he'd counted a seven but he hadn't stopped to see if Takaya had just been making that word up.

Then there was a pause, during which Takaya did not go away, which made Jin look up from his card-sorting; Takaya was looking at him with his eyes wider and his head slightly turned to one side, which meant that he was waiting for an answer. Jin handed him the Three of Clubs, but Takaya's eyes stayed wide, which meant it wasn't the right answer. "What do you mean?" Jin asked, which was a good way to get the doctors to repeat themselves without having to say 'I don't know', which Jin never liked to do. He always knew.

Takaya smiled, which Jin liked. Moros liked Takaya too, otherwise Jin might never have noticed him. But Moros' gears spun up and whirred inside him whenever Takaya got close, and it made his mouth feel mechanical, and it only sometimes made the insides of his head itch. "Are you having trouble sleeping?" Takaya said again, only it couldn't be the thing he'd said before, because this time there were a lot fewer words.

"No," said Jin. He hadn't even tried sleeping. When the doctors had turned out all the lights on the ward, he'd gotten up and walked over to the place closest to the door, where there was still a narrow shaft of light coming from the little rectangular window (eight centimeters by thirteen centimeters, with thin wires in the glass that made fifty-four complete squares where they crossed) so he could get back to sorting his cards. The doctors only came back in if someone started screaming, and if someone started screaming they'd have a lot more to worry about than a boy up past his bedtime.

Takaya nodded and looked at the Queen of Diamonds, turning it in his fingers in the dim light. "kxxxgx xffx xrxxxyx xxxrxdexx xxxxhjxxx xwxzxxhx Chidori, doesn't she?" A name Jin cared about cut through the grey sound of Takaya's voice, reminding him that he was listening. "Her hair, mostly." Jin didn't like Chidori. She was too many numbers at once; she sounded like birds where Takaya sounded like thunder. He wouldn't have noticed her if Takaya hadn't noticed her, and he never would have noticed Takaya if Moros hadn't noticed Takaya.

Moros was the machine that made the world that wasn't Jin turn. Moros made the gears inside him grind, fitting cogs together before pushing them apart; Moros always counted up the numbers and got to the right answer; Moros never had to check the source code for errors. Moros was the primary reason, Jin was vaguely aware, that he wasn't allowed at the lab computers anymore. Moros understood that the word was one or zero, often consecutively but never concurrently. How could it be? One was fundamentally different from zero. You couldn't be both. There wasn't anything that wasn't one or zero or one and zero (consecutively, never concurrently). Base ten was a convenience. He hated numerology because nothing ever added up to zero, and zero was half the world, the snake eating its own tail he'd seen once on the cover of a children's book. Jin was zero.

"                          ," said Takaya, "                                           ?" Takaya was talking again, and that was because Takaya was one, and one had a lot to say about itself and about other things, and when he stood up he looked very long and straight, just like a one. One is true; one is Aleph; one is the probability when everything is absolutely sure. One is neither perfect nor prime; one is too perfect, too prime. One is the first powerful number. The doctors made Takaya cut his hair short like all the other kids, but Jin wanted him to grow it long, because everything about Takaya should be long and straight.

Then Takaya stopped, and there was another pause, and Jin knew it was because Takaya expected him to speak. He tried so hard to listen sometimes, he really did, but sometimes it was like someone was erasing the words as soon as they came out of Takaya's mouth, and sometimes it was like the words all tumbled together until they were a roll of thunder, and sometimes when there was thunder it rained.

The inside of his head began to itch again, and he dropped the cards, running his fingers through his hair. He clenched his hands into fists at the base of his neck and pulled out clumps of hair, hoping that would get at the itch inside, but it just grew louder and started turning yellow. He closed his eyes and clapped the backs of his hands together, trying to scare it away. He put his chin to his chest, hissing air from the sides of his mouth with his tongue firmly placed against the top palate, and filled the itch with the number zero. Zero plus any odd number is an odd number. Zero plus any even number is an even number. Zero plus itself is zero. Zero minus itself is zero. Zero times itself is zero. Zero to the zero power is one. He opened his eyes and Takaya was still there, waiting for him, two bright eyes surrounded by the halo of his fine hair lit from behind by the light from the door.

After a long moment, Takaya lifted his hand, palm facing Jin, fingers splayed. Jin stared at it a moment, then took it, twining his fingers with Takaya's; he began by squeezing, then just pushed, at first lightly, then harder, until he could feel both his heartbeat and Takaya's heartbeat in the pressed palms of their hands. "Do you want me to help you sleep?" asked Takaya, and Jin could finally hear words in the thunder.

"Yes," said Jin, putting the cards down and letting Takaya help him stand. He followed Takaya back to Takaya's bed, past the rows of beds with other sleeping children in them; Moros' gears clicked once as he passed each one, and Jin knew with a distant sort of certainty they'd all be dead soon. The last time he'd said something about that he'd had his dinner taken away for the evening, so he didn't say anything about it anymore, but that didn't make it any less true. Moros still spun hotly for him, though, and for Takaya, and even for Chidori although though she was one and zero (but only consecutively).

He stood passively while Takaya undressed him down to his underwear, even offered his face to let Takaya take off his glasses and fold them on the bedside table, then climbed under the covers after Takaya pulled them back. Takaya got in behind him and pulled the covers up over both of them, and tucked their bodies together so Jin's right cheek rested against the inside of Takaya's left arm. He hated being touched by the doctors and by the other kids, but it was okay with Takaya. Takaya's skin was warm, and Takaya never hurt him or pushed him or made fun of him or stole his glasses. Takaya beat up the kids who stole Jin's glasses. He was the best thing in the world, so he had to be one, because one was true and also yes. Jin licked Takaya's bare shoulder, because sometimes he needed to know how Takaya's skin tasted right then, and Takaya smiled and let him, because Takaya was the best thing in the world.

"Just close your eyes," said Takaya, and he put his hand on Jin's face, resting the heel of his palm against the bridge of Jin's nose, threading his long fingertips out just past the edge of Jin's hairline. Jin felt gold threads slip from Takaya's fingers into his head, past his skull, deep into his brain where Moros sat waiting; and all the gold threads slipped between Moros' gears, cushioning the teeth and pulling at their spin, spreading like vines throughout the system, not enough to stop it, but just to slow it down for a while; and Jin closed his eyes and let sleep have him.

(brief author's notes at the original post)

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