Ever 17

[Tsugumi]
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you.”
[Takeshi]
“About what?”
[Tsugumi]
“Well, some things I need to say…”
[Tsugumi]
“Things to say…things I need to let you know…”
[Tsugumi]
“And I figured, no one could interrupt us here.”
[Takeshi]
“It must really be something important…”
[Takeshi]
“Something serious…?”
[Tsugumi]
“Well, yeah…at least for me it is.”

Having her approach me to talk was unusual.
Tsugumi fixed her eyes firmly on mine.
Her eyes were serious.
With no sign of mischief in them.
Whatever the consequences, I had to listen…


[Tsugumi]
“Twelve years ago…”
[Tsugumi]
“In August of 2005.”
[Tsugumi]
“On a summer day…”
[Tsugumi]
“I was infected.”
[Tsugumi]
“…I was infected with a virus…”
[Tsugumi]
“Yes, 2005. Twelve years ago.”
[Tsugumi]
“I was only 12 years old at the time…”
[Takeshi]
“A virus?”
[Tsugumi]
“Yeah.”
[Takeshi]
“And are you still…infected?”
[Tsugumi]
“Yeah.”
[Tsugumi]
“I’m a carrier…”
[Takeshi]
“…a carrier? What? Wait a second!”
[Takeshi]
“Come on! Wait a just a second here!”
[Takeshi]
“You mean to tell me…twelve years ago, at age 12?”
[Tsugumi]
“That’s what I’m saying.”
[Takeshi]
“Twelve years ago, at age 12…means your age now is…”
[Tsugumi]
“That’s right, I’m 23.”
[Tsugumi]
“I’ll be 24 in another two months.”
[Tsugumi]
“You see…I was born 24 years ago. In July 1993.”

I scrutinized Tsugumi’s face.
There was no way she looked 23.
But then again, I knew she wasn’t lying.
We had never touched upon the subject of her age.
But I had assumed her to be a “high school student” at the most.


[Takeshi]
“23 years old…”

I muttered to myself.
To think…she was three years older than me…

[Tsugumi]
“Takeshi, where are you?”

She suddenly changed the topic.


[Takeshi]
“What do you mean, ‘where?’ I’m right here.”
[Tsugumi]
“Yeah but, where is here?”
[Takeshi]
“You know, here is ‘here,’ right?”

I beat the palm of my hand against my chest.


[Tsugumi]
“Have you ever cut you finger nails?”
[Takeshi]
“What’s up with you all of a sudden?”

Tsugumi leaned over urgently, right in front of my face.
In her eyes I could see something, like a distant light.
I could just glimpse the tip of her tongue, wet and smooth.


[Tsugumi]
“Just answer, okay…”
[Tsugumi]
“Have you ever cut your finger nails?”
[Takeshi]
“Of course I have.”
[Tsugumi]
“Well then, is the nail that’s been cut away still you?”
[Takeshi]
“What do you mean?”
[Tsugumi]
“I mean, are you there in the nail?”
[Takeshi]
“No…I guess once it’s gone from my body, it’s not me anymore.”
[Tsugumi]
“How about hair?”
[Takeshi]
“The same goes for hair.”
[Tsugumi]
“In that case, this hair here is you right?
But If I pull it out…”
[Takeshi]
“Ouch!”

I reflexively put my hand to my head.
Tsugumi had yanked out a couple strands.


[Tsugumi]
“This isn’t you?”

Tsugumi held the hair up, waving it around.


[Takeshi]
“Hmm…that’s tough.”
[Takeshi]
“It isn’t me but…”
[Takeshi]
“I guess you could call it, ‘ex-me.'”
[Tsugumi]
“Okay then…What if I ripped your arm off?”
[Takeshi]
“You gotta be kidding!”

Tsugumi grabbed my arm.
And before I could react, I was drawn into her body.
Although she wasn’t abnormally strong, I found it impossible to resist her.
It was a natural, flowing movement.
Inside the white gondola…
…Tsugumi’s body covered mine.
I could feel her breath.
I could feel her pulse.
I could feel the warmth of her body.
I could smell her scent.
The smell of musk…
It made me slightly dizzy…

[Tsugumi]
“Well? If I ripped your arm off?”

Gazing intensely at me, Tsugumi continued shooting me questions.


[Takeshi]
“………”
[Tsugumi]
“Would you be there, in the arm?”
[Takeshi]
“No, I suppose I wouldn’t be there.”
[Tsugumi]
“Okay, then what if I took off your leg?”
[Tsugumi]
“Or if I cut your torso away?”
[Tsugumi]
“Or even if I took out your brain?”

Still gazing at me, she moved her hands and put them on my neck.
It felt like I was being hunted.
The illusion was intense.
She looked straight at me.
I couldn’t shake myself away from her gaze.
I peered deeply into her eyes.
I felt like I was being sucked inside her.
…Those eyes, full of that distant light.
I wondered where the light originated from…


[Tsugumi]
“Tell me, Takeshi, where are you?”
[Takeshi]
“I’m…”
[Takeshi]
“…where am I?”

Me…Takeshi Kuranari. Since the moment I was born I had existed as one person. One continuous, linear, cohesive individual.There was no doubt about that fact. The ‘me’ as a baby in the photo album, the ‘me’ running around in elementary school and finally, the ‘me’ sitting there…they were all the same organism called ‘Kuranari Takeshi.’

So where exactly did the entity called ‘me’ exist? In the past, people thought the soul existed in a person’s heart. Descartes believed the soul inhabited the pineal gland in the brain.

The brain.
I wondered briefly if I existed only in my memories?
But if that were the truth, then if I lost my memory , wouldn’t that mean I was no longer ‘Kuranari Takeshi?’
Thoughts? Senses? Emotions? Sensations? Character? Values?
All of those things were nothing but functions of the organ called the brain.

For one thing, the ‘me’ that ran around in elementary school was composed of different molecules than the ‘me’ there. From purely a material point of view, my younger ‘me’ was entirely different than my older ‘me.’

Cells die and are replaced daily. Every cell that is replaced will also die.

They say the cells in the entire human body are completely replaced every three to five years. By comparison, a rock would be composed of the exact same molecules five years before, or five years hence.
But a human body was different.
The cells of ‘me’ five years ago were not the same as the cells of ‘me’ then.

Even so, the ‘me’ of five years before and the ‘me’ then were definitely the same.
Then, just what was it that defined ‘me’?
And where did that ‘me’ exist…?

Tsugumi took her hand off of my neck. I breathed easier.


[Tsugumi]
“You see. Your existence has no substance.”
[Tsugumi]
“All you are is a concept.”
[Takeshi]
“A concept?”
[Tsugumi]
“You are just a packet of information…’software’.”
[Tsugumi]
“The information written on a CD has no physical body, right?”
[Tsugumi]
“The CD itself is just plastic, a hard mass of polycarbonate.”
[Tsugumi]
“But that mass has nothing to do with the information it holds.”
[Tsugumi]
“Information can’t have a physical body, that’s impossible.”
[Tsugumi]
“Information does not have shape or substance.”
[Tsugumi]
“The embodiment of information only takes place through its application.”
[Tsugumi]
“However, the embodied information itself has no actual body.”
[Tsugumi]
“The essence of information is the information itself…”
[Takeshi]
“………”
[Tsugumi]
“Takeshi, it’s the same for you.”
[Tsugumi]
“There is no physical substance to your ‘essence’.”
[Tsugumi]
“Instead, the human called ‘Takeshi Kuranari’ is no more than a concept, information, software.”
[Tsugumi]
“And that essence is realized only through your body, the hardware.”
[Tsugumi]
“That’s it. Your body is just the hardware.”
[Tsugumi]
“It’s just a device in which the entity of ‘you’ is embodied.”
[Takeshi]
“…I see. Hmm.”
[Takeshi]
“Okay, okay. I understand you perfectly.”
[Takeshi]
“No, actually I hardly understand you at all…but if what you say is true…”
[Takeshi]
“Then what?”
[Takeshi]
“What does that have to do with what you were talking about?”
[Tsugumi]
“Twelve years ago, I was infected with a virus.”
[Takeshi]
“Yeah, you said that.”
[Tsugumi]
“Because of that virus…the virus…”
[Tsugumi]
“It rewrote my genetic code.”
[Takeshi]
“What? Your genetic code?”
[Tsugumi]
“Cells in peoples body are replaced daily.”
[Tsugumi]
“They are reborn, and then die.”
[Tsugumi]
“Normally, the human body is totally replaced with new cells within five years.”
[Tsugumi]
“When I was twelve, the cells in my body were infected. And from that moment on, they divided and replaced themselves.”
[Tsugumi]
“Five years later, all cells had been replaced.”
[Tsugumi]
“In five years, every cell that made up my body had been genetically altered.”
[Takeshi]
“………?”
[Tsugumi]
“And when the last of the cells had died…”
[Tsugumi]
“…the last trace of my 12-year-old self disappeared.”
[Tsugumi]
“In that moment the old me died.”
[Tsugumi]
“The old me died, but the new me became a body that never dies.”
[Takeshi]
“A body that never dies…?”
[Tsugumi]
“My immune system and my metabolic rate were remarkably improved…”
[Tsugumi]
“My telomeres began to regenerate themselves…”
[Tsugumi]
“That’s right…”
[Tsugumi]
“I will never grow old, and never die.”
[Tsugumi]
“My physical growth stopped at that moment in time.”

[Tsugumi]
I’ll never grow older than 17.

[Takeshi]
“………”

“‘Highly improved immune system and
increased metabolic efficiency'”
“‘Telomeres that continue to rejuvenate'”
Well, if I what she said was to be believed….
Tsugumi’s body would never die on its own.
As long as her body had the energy to continue, it would not die.
As long as she continued to have the will to live, her body would be sustained forever.
Semi-eternal life.
But, was such a thing even conceivable?
The concept of never growing old, never dying

– was it possible?

Why do living creatures age?

…Essentially,
it is to protect against exhaustion and deterioration of function.
The life cycle needs aging so it can have succession and renewal through subsequent generations.
I couldn’t help but laugh.


[Takeshi]
“Ha…”
[Takeshi]
“Ha, ha, ha…”
[Takeshi]
“That’s a good story. But no way…!”
[Takeshi]
“But I guess it’s a good joke, pretty solid.”
[Tsugumi]
“Yeah…I guess your right.”

Tsugumi snickered at my words.


[Tsugumi]
“Yep, it’s just a little joke.”
[Tsugumi]
“I thought you might fall for it, but I guess not.”
[Takeshi]
“What else would you expect? Crazy talk like that.”
[Tsugumi]
“Well, Takeshi…”
[Tsugumi]
“I guess you’re not so stupid after all.”

Tsugumi got up slowly.
Her disheveled clothes showed just a peek of her legs.
And a glimpse of her sleek thighs.
Her clean satin skin.
…and a scar.


[Takeshi]
“What the…?”
[Tsugumi]
“What’s the matter?”
[Tsugumi]
“Takeshi…what are you looking at?”

Your right thigh, at the scar…


[Tsugumi]
“Do you want a closer look?”
[Takeshi]
“Well…yeah…no…”
[Tsugumi]
“Shall I show you…?”
[Takeshi]
“No, really…”
[Takeshi]
“It’s okay…”

Sure enough, it was a scar.
However…
It looked like something that had healed years ago, just a scar where once several stitches closed a wound.

(Ever 17, Out of Infinity)


About Tiya Novlita

5th year Pharmacy undergrad student, procrastinating illustrator and Visual Novel developer with zero knowledge of programming
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