A flag of an ally when raised by enemies or rogues, typically in order to lull other vessels into a false sense of security.
The song she had mentioned was called “Leck mich im Arse”.
Idiomatically, that translated out to “Kiss my arse”, but I preferred the rough, literal version.
“Lick me in the ass”.
I’d first heard about the song while reading about some English prime minister, back when I was fourteen. According to the story, she’d gone out to see “Amadeus”, which was a play on the life of Mozart. It wasn’t intended to be historically accurate, but it did do a pretty decent job of capturing his personality.
Wolfgang, as most modern fans of his didn’t like to talk about, wasn’t as high brow as most others would have automatically assumed. The guy was fond of joking about fucking and shitting, which were topics most in the world of classical era music weren’t supposed to joke about, generally speaking. He wrote some fun letters.
It was traditional for artistic depictions of Mozart to cut out the sections of his life involving the composition of songs and correspondences with the phrase “shit in your bed and make it burst”, but Amadeus went in the opposite direction, highlighting them.
The PM didn’t like that. Supposedly, once it was finished, she was so incensed that she went up to the director putting on the play, telling him how disgraceful he was for portraying Mozart as anything less than the paragon of high artistic society. The guy rightfully explained to her about it all being true, offering to send her copies of his dirtiest personal letters.
She looked at him, furrowed her brow, and spoke plainly.
“It is not possible,” she insisted. “Not from someone who could create works of such beauty.”
If I had ever met her, we would’ve probably had some personal disagreements. To put it lightly.
I was in the bath of the ritzy hotel room that Led and I had stopped in for the night, with my phone placed within arm’s distance on the closed toilet seat. I had it set to read out the advanced copy of the articles that Camella had sent me, and I couldn’t stop myself from listening to the last one over and over again, too pleased with myself to resist. Even without the fact that she’d actually mentioned the Mozart, they’d come out amazingly; that little tidbit was just the cherry on top. The bathwater had already gone cold, but it was barely even noticeable, the high of hearing Camella’s dogshit reporting almost too much for me to handle. My ribs were sore.
It ended again, looping back to the start for my tenth, eleventh, twelfth listen. Led had gone out for dinner without me — it wasn’t smart for me to be out in public, with the article coming out tomorrow — and I’d have at least another forty-five minutes to keep going at it before he came back. He was a slow eater, and I told him not to rush on bringing me anything back, so it would be some time. He knew me well enough to figure that I wanted privacy.
The phone rang, cutting off the reading. The ringtone was Holst, which meant Clem.
I’d sent her the files for the articles earlier that day without thinking, immediately after having gotten them myself from Camella. Other than Led and April, she was the only person I could share them with, but I’d sent her them without reading them myself, which was a mistake. I expected some resistance from her no matter how it came out, but Camella had ended up going along with the narrative way more than even I expected, and I was probably about to get lectured for it.
Sighing, I reached for the phone.
“Hey, Clem. What’s up?”
Two words from her and I could already tell exactly where she was going to try and force the conversation. Which was obvious, in retrospect. It was Clem. In her mind, anything aside from moral perfection obligated her to start bitching at me.
Fuck it, I decided. No point in playing nice.
“Good shit, right?”
“The first four were fine. But you can’t… Hallie, when you told me about this, I told you that I didn’t think it was right, but I didn’t think you were going to go as far as that last one did. That’s too much. That’s way, way too much.”
“She was dumber than I expected. Is that my fault?
“It’s not dumb for her to assume basic honesty from you, Hallie. You’re not a politician.”
We had walked through the same argument at least fifteen times. The same complaints, the same responses. It would go on forever.
“Like I said last time, what have I lied about, aside from the basics? Aside from the shit that everybody makes shit up about, what did I tell her that wasn’t true?”
“You were misrepresenting yourself.”
“Yeah. I was. Totally. But, um, quick question, Clem. My legs are fucked to pieces, right? Like, when walk, I fucking wobble, don’t I? I forget sometimes if that’s true, so if you could remind me, I’d seriously appreciate that.”
“You’re smart enough to know that’s not what I’m talking about.”
“And, like, I’m fucking blind, right? I’m pretty sure I’m blind, Clem. I’m in the bath right now, so maybe that’s what’s making it so hard to recall, but I’m pretty sure that the world looks like a permanent blur of shit and bright light. But hey, maybe I’m just imagining that. It’s just, you know, you’re such an amazing fucking genius about this type of shit, so I figured if anyone could confirm all that for me, it’d be you.”
“You’re being obnoxious.”
“And on the video, that’s me, right? I’m fairly confident that Salina Williams beat the shit out of my four year old self, but hey, I’m such a blind crippled retard, maybe I’m just misremembering how it all went down. You know how fucking stupid we all are, us invalids.”
“Are you honestly trying to twist this around to paint me as ableist, Hallie? Fucking seriously? From the day we started having this discussion, my only point was that you shouldn’t go out of your way to pretend that you’re some broken-down shrinking violet, because you’re not. If you want to sit here and act like you aren’t being scummy and disagree with me on the immorality of this, fine, but don’t you dare suggest that I’ve ever treated you as any less of a person because of the hand you’ve been dealt.”
Wow, Clem cursed. That was a big deal, for her.
“It was hyperbole, fuck. Relax.”
“…Why did you need to arrange it like this? It’s not like you aren’t already doing wonderfully for yourself, Hallie. If you want to stop doing the little secret private shows for rich people and come out publicly with your identity, I’d totally understand! It makes sense to me, and I’d support that. But even from a selfish perspective, even if you’re completely determined to disregard morals and you only care about maximizing profit or fame, what does it benefit you to come up with this bullshit persona of yours? You can’t remember how bad it was right after it happened, but they were obsessed with what was happening with us, Hallie. Knowing that you overcame that much to end up where you are now, that would have been more than enough to boost your current position. Why not just speak to a reporter and have an honest conversation with them? Why do you need to fake a fall off a stepstool and lie to a reporter in a cutesy voice about having social anxiety disorder? Do you think that people wouldn’t be interested anymore in virtue of you being a well-adjusted, emotionally-secure individual? It’s insane to me, Hallie. You aren’t even getting anything out of this.”
April Mariano was a smart lady. She was my fourth manager, and much, much better than the first three I’d hired, which explained why she was the only one I’d kept for as long as I had. Part of that was because she was excellent at arranging private soloist concerts with rich assholes, and another part was that she didn’t get a stick up her ass whenever I mentioned how much I hated said assholes while in her company. Most importantly, she understood statistics.
The plan discussed between Led and I had always involved me coming out with who I was eventually. The digital albums and advertising money had always made us a huge baseline, but the secret performances for the rich were leagues ahead in what they ended up generating, and we wanted to make sure that the jump in popularity following the reveal would be enough to close the gap.
For the several dozen patrons who liked to have me flown out to whatever private corporate event or private summer home to play for them, the largest appeal wasn’t the music; it was me. For what to them was an otherwise inconsequential amount of zeroes, they got to be a part of the secret, to know the answer just a little bit earlier than everyone else. Like renting out an itty-bitty chunk of history and having it perform for you. A pleb could buy an imitation of a fashion-style or a designer bag, but they couldn’t copy access to knowledge; that had to be bought. If I revealed who I was to everyone publicly, it would also destroy the main incentive for them to hire me, so it only made sense for us to do so when we were sure it would be worth it.
The Doll that I’d shown to Camella Stone was more or less the same Hallie that the rich had been introduced to, if not slightly exaggerated. I’d originally developed her in order to fit in with certain expectations of my clientele, and the plan was to chuck her out as soon as it went profitable to go public, replacing her with something closer to me. April had been the one to suggest that we rework that concept and stick with The Doll moving forward, especially with what was happening to my eyesight. It was very professional, what she suggested. She made a Powerpoint.
There were algorithms, demonstrations, examples of others who’d more or less done the same thing, and to great success. The Doll was, given my history, a money-printing machine. She was cute, lithe, precious. She was fantastic at one thing in particular, yeah, but that was easily ignored in view of all else. Outside of the violin, she was helpless, dependent, vulnerable. Not necessarily stupid or naive, but simple and uncomplicated, free of all hostile or intimidating emotions. She batted her eyelashes and played up a storm and smiled and talked about how all she wanted was for everyone to get along. Precision-engineered to make people tear up and want to protect her forever, the perfect little object for mass fetishitization.
She would deny that characterization, if asked. She wasn’t a victim, she’d insist, and she didn’t want to be defined by her personal history or her disabilities. That only made it more endearing, of course. “Look at her,” they’d think subconsciously. “She wants to be a normal person. That’s adorable.”
That was the long answer. The short answer was “Hey, just business.”
Clem wouldn’t accept either.
“Okay, look. You said that you think it’s immoral, right?”
“For the most part, yes.”
“But it’s not. It’s amoral. Not immoral, amoral.”
“See, there’s a difference. Immoral is like, hey, you want to go out and do bad things. That’s messed up. Like anti-moral, which is bad. But amoral is just, not being focused on the ethical side of it. Not that you go out of your way to bad things on purpose, or even that you’re doing any at all, but you don’t see why it’s so important to be focused on only doing good things all the time. You aren’t against morals, you just don’t live every moment like they’re all that matters. If bad things happen sometimes, whatever.”
“You know, the only people who ever make this distinction are people trying to minimize the shitty things they’re doing and moral philosophy professors. Neither of those are groups of people you want to be associated with, Hallie.”
“So I’m shitty, then. Thanks, sis.”
“You’re acting like you are, yeah. Look, you’re twenty, and you’re smart, in spite of all the pseudo-intellectual garbage you tell yourself to feel better about behaving the way you do. And I know you went through a lot, which is why I’m not pressing this as much as I could be. But still, I just don’t get it, Hallie. I know you said you don’t care about interacting with people who like your music, but do you really think there’s zero value in just, trying it out? You’ve never even tried it, not really. I’m not an artist, so maybe I don’t get it, but wouldn’t you say there’s value in casting an authentic version of yourself out there? Maybe you’d like it. Being real, as a creator.”
“All artists are bullshitters, Clem. Maybe not with what they produce, but with who they claim to be? They’re all liars when it comes to that. A few might give you tiny little fragments of what they’re really like, but none of them actually put themselves out there, not in the way you’re talking about. When you see a comedian, a singer, a whatever-the-fuck, whatever they’ve decided to show you is a product. They have curated all the desirable aspects of themselves they have together with what is marketable in order to create a puppet, and they are selling you that puppet. Maybe you are supposed to want to empathize with the puppet, maybe you’re supposed to think it’s funny, maybe you’re supposed to want to fuck it. But it’s a puppet.”
“Maybe, but I’m not wrong. Everybody makes puppets. And you’re standing on the sidelines, not aware of all this, telling me that I’m wrong for doing it just because I’m blind and used to have the shit beaten out of me. Like that somehow makes it worse. The way I see it, people are going to think less of me for that anyway, so why not make a profit off it?”
“But they shouldn’t be thinking less of you. That’s the point, Hallie.”
“Clem, we are the only two people in the country who didn’t get to cash in on our own suffering. If you think I’m wrong to do so, cool. But you have a lot of people you need to call up and moralize to before you get to me.”
“…Look, I’m not going to change your mind. Have the article published, make money from a bunch of sad desperate people on the Internet. But at least remember that you don’t have to keep going in this direction, if it starts to make you feel empty inside. Whenever you want to start, you can make a gradual transition from whatever person you’ve made for them and work your way to something closer to reality. I’m not telling you that you have to share every detail of your personal life. You probably shouldn’t. But you don’t have to lie, either.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“I love you, Hallie. Even if you’re an idiot.”
“Fgeehhhh. Led just came back. Bye.”
I hung up.
He hadn’t actually come back yet, but I realized that I wanted him to, so I tried calling. The voiceover system chose to listen to what I was saying on the first attempt only about sixty-percent of the time, but it clearly sensed that I was frustrated after having spoken to Clem, immediately ringing him.
“That’s right, Ellis. I’m a rich asshole too, remember. I can throw you against a fucking wall and get a replacement and it won’t mean shit to me.”
Led, who never answered on the first ring, decided to answer on the first ring. Wonderful.
“I was, um, talking to the phone. Sorry. It’s been pissing me off.”
“When are you coming back? I’m hungry.”
“You told me to take my time, which usually means you want me to let you wallow in misery alone for a couple hours.”
He knew me well.
“I can be back in fifteen, if you want.”
“Yeah, fine. Get Chinese.”
“Sure. That said, April called. She put it on me to find a good time to mention it to you, but she wants to have a talk.”
“She wasn’t clear. Something about an offer. Sounded big.”
“She knows the article is coming out tomorrow morning, right? There’s no point to scheduling anyone. They’ll just want to cancel.”
“She said it didn’t matter.”
“Fine. See you soon, then. Love you.”
“Yeah. Love you too.”
After thinking about it for several seconds, I gave up on trying to figure it out. I wasn’t in the mood to play mystery solver. Whatever April had planned, I’d find out then.
“Ellis, play Resurrection of Sound, Part V. Start from 2:40.”
Back to the good shit.