L'appel du Vide
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"Morning, Mikael."

Mikael's eyes opened slowly as a blurry figure stood before him.

Cynthia?

He fumbled for his glasses and put them on quickly. As the world came into focus, Martha's face appeared in his vision. A beautiful brunette with high cheekbones. Her blue eyes usually captivated him, but today it seemed so unsettling. For no discernible reason, he felt disappointed and a little nauseous.

Massaging his brow, he dismissed his questionable reaction to seeing his wife. After giving himself a few moments to fully regain his consciousness, Mikael climbed out of the king-sized bed.

"How long have you been up?" Mikael asked when he noticed the bags under Martha's eyes.

"Since 3."

"Was it the baby?"

"Yeah, I felt it kicking. I was too excited to fall back to sleep."

His eyes drifted down towards Martha's abdomen. She had been carrying for eight months, and her belly was getting really big.

Every time Mikael came home from his work at the Foundation, she would be busy vacuuming some room, preparing dinner, or doing some chore. It's as if she was always in motion. He felt guilty having to leave the mother of his child at home during a time when she needed him most. Whom could she call if she went into labour when Mikael was still at work?

These thoughts tormented him so much that he wanted to appeal for a few weeks of leave, just so he could be there for Martha. Somehow, she managed to convince Mikael that his work was more important than her, that it was a-okay to leave her at home and to stop worrying so much.

"Worry makes you age faster-you'll look ugly if you keep thinking about me," she mentioned.

Although Mikael still felt bad about leaving her at home, he was a little relieved to hear that she did not mind too much.

"…Anyways, I made some kaya toast for you, it's on the kitchen counter. The coffee is in the thermos too. I'm gonna go lay down, my back is killing me." Martha's voice rang out, snapping Mikael back to the present.

After escorting her to the sofa and ensuring that she was comfortable, he ate breakfast, put on his clothes, and prepared for work.

"See you. Love you."

Waving at the already-asleep Martha, Mikael closed the door behind him.



A long line of people walked out of a room, escorted by a few MTFs. Like livestock, they were pushed back whenever they walked out of line. Their eyes were glazed and empty; their mouths were hanging open.

Mikael had learnt to ignore this regular sight. He remembered the first time he asked the Head Researcher about who these people were, and was told they were undergoing amnesticisation.

Weirdly, what never faded in him despite all the time, was a compulsion to stretch out his hands towards these people and shake them violently, telling them and reminding them of their past lives, their feelings, the people they loved, and those they hated. But he could not do that because he neither remembered their past nor could he predict their future. In the end, he always pulled those hands back into his jacket. Today, they felt even colder despite being tucked into the folds of the insulating material. It was probably the winter weather, nothing else.

He switched on the lights to his office. It was eerily quiet. Mikael looked at his watch; it was already 9:07 am. Why wasn't anyone here yet? Figuring that he might as well start work, he approached his table.

"Happy birthday, Mikael!" His colleagues popped out from behind his cubicle just as he reached his chair. The chorus of their voices was accompanied by a few shrill blows of a party horn and cacophonous clapping.

"God, I didn't even notice! Is it already the 7th of December?" Mikael exclaimed, pleasantly and genuinely surprised.

"You would have known if you actually cared about yourself more than your work." A big hand clasped his shoulder. Mikael turned around and was greeted by Turner, his best mate in the Foundation.

"Did you plan this?"

"Of course."

"You're the man."

Pleased at Mikael's response, Turner took the cake from Frieda's hands and placed it on the table. Somebody switched the lights off and Mikael was handed a plastic knife. It was pretty embarrassing to be the centre of this much attention, but when he saw those expectant looks on their smiling faces, he had no heart to tell them. Urged on, he proceeded to blow out the candle on the mango cake.

"Go ahead. Make a wish."

Mikael closed his eyes.

I wish I will always be this fulfilled and happy. With a job I love, with a wife I love, and with friends I love.

His friends cheered as he blew the candle out. The small flame flickered, as if struggling to hold on to its dear life, until it finally let go. The only thing remaining of the small candle fighting against the huge draft that Mikael blew was a few smoky tendrils that were already disappearing into the air.

A red-faced Mikael blinked slowly and looked around the room. In this atmosphere, he did not mind that he looked foolish with a party hat on his head and a great smile on his face. The beers started getting passed around, and soon, everybody looked as foolish as the blushing Mikael.



"Here's a little present for you." Turner revealed the item that he had been holding behind his back.

Mikael's eyes widened.

"How much did this cost?" He took the wine bottle from Turner's hands and examined it. 'Dom Perignon 1998' was labelled in huge black letters, making it look extremely lucky.

"Let's not care about that, just enjoy your day, eh?"

"Thanks, Turner. You didn't have to do this."

Turner smiled. Waving his head, he walked out of Mikael's cubicle.

Soon after Turner left, Frieda and Gary snuck up behind Mikael.

"Yo, let's toast to your birthday!"

"I can't, we're still at work."

"Don't be such a stuck up, hand that over." Gary took the bottle off Mikael's table and in one swift action, unravelled the lid of the wine. He poured it into three cups and handed one over to Mikael.

"To Mikael."

"To Mikael!" Frieda and Gary chugged down the contents of their glass in one gulp. Feeling pressured to do the same, he took a tiny sip of wine from the glass.

Once he drank it, it felt like a shotgun loaded with musky grapes was exploded into the back of his throat. Each sip relaxed his muscles until he felt weak all over. Sinking back into his office chair, he sighed in pleasure.

Every time someone came over to his cubicle to say 'Happy Birthday', Mikael would find an excuse to drink with them. By the end of the day, the bottle was completely empty and he was red-faced. The sun had already set; it was 7:09 pm. Swiping his stuff into his bag, Mikael staggered out of the compound hurriedly. Just as he was about to enter his car, he heard Turner's voice call out behind him.

"Hey! Heading home?"

Mikael froze. He did not want Turner to know he had already drunk the wine, so without turning around, he tried to formulate a sentence to assure there was nothing wrong.

"Yeah, my wife's calling." Mikael's tongue felt like a block of lead, weighing down his words. It took him all of his effort to not stammer or slur during his sentence.

"Alright, drive safe. See you at work tomorrow." Turner waved and headed back into the compound.

Mikael's body lost its stiff posture, relieved that Turner did not seem to suspect anything. His hands were trembling as he pulled open the door of his Ford. Steadying himself into the driver's seat, he inserted the key into the ignition and tried to start the car. After a few frustrating unsuccessful attempts, he realised he had been turning the key in the wrong direction. After the fifth time he tried, the engine finally started up and Mikael handled the steering wheel shakily as he drove his car out into the snow-covered road.



Mikael's mind wandered as his unsteady hands piloted his car on the narrow, icy road. Why was it that he felt so light, so strong and invincible, yet he was unable to calm his hands from shaking? For no reason in particular, Mikael took his right hand off the steering wheel and stared dazedly at the window to his left, gazing at his reflection.

Everything Mikael saw about himself seemed wrong. His head was perched at an awkward angle on his shoulders, that was crooked and hunched themselves. His bony hands moved in the opposite direction he meant them to, disorienting him greatly. Nothing in his body was coordinated, so although he felt the motion from the car moving and pushing him forwards, Mikael felt as if he was floating backwards through his seat.

He touched his face with the other hand, slowly examining the details in the moonlit mirror, brushing over every small hair. It looked even worse than the rest of his body, as if some thug had vandalised and smashed it apart, and it had been reconstructed by someone with only a vague knowledge of human anatomy. It wasn't his face. Was it his face? Hey, who are you? Are you me?

By the time he arrived at a conclusion, he was already unconscious, his car crashed into a tree.



An enormous expanse stretched out for miles. The clouds moved lazily in the sky, and was reflected on the flat platform Mikael stood on. It was beautiful. Was this heaven?

Hello Mikael.

Who are you? Are you god?

No, I'm Harper.

Well, nice to meet you, am I dead?

No.

Then where am I?

A memoryscape.

Ah, alright, so my memories will flash before my eyes before I die?

I mean, yeah, but you're probably not going to die.

Then, what is this?

A place for us to talk to each other.

Why would I need to talk to you?

You're pretty annoying, you know that? And it doesn't help that this is me I'm talking to right now. Let's cut to the chase, Harper.

I'm annoying? In my perspective, you are. Anyways, I'm not Harper. I'm Mikael. Aren't you Harper?

Well, not exactly. Imagine I'm some kind of memory parasite that has taken up the identity of the past you.

What do you mean when you say 'past me'?

Before you became Mikael. When you were still Harper.

The surroundings began to shift violently around Mikael when the disembodied head stopped talking. His body lurched forwards, and downwards, and sideways as he was thrown around like the clothes in a washing machine. The colours changed from red to green to purple to yellow, twisting and swirling past him, finally settling into deep and dark black, catching Mikael from his fall.

Mikael's mind was buzzing as he observed the pitch-black environment he was in. Ahead of him, there were two figures, one was enshrouded in a bright and warm orange with emeralds for eyes while the other was lit up by a cold and dark blue. He squinted his eyes to make their features out, but no matter how hard he tried, all he could make out were luminescent blobs in the shape of a male and female.

Mikael wanted to walk up to them and greet them. That longing for companionship manifested in the pits of his chest. But he could not comprehend why he felt so lonely. Didn't he have Turner, Frieda, Tristen, Cony, Gary, Charmaine, Estes and his wife, Martha? Yet, his legs were compelled to move forwards, to approach them and figure out who they were and why they caused this enigmatic emotion.

These are Cynthia and Morrison.

"Harper, we want you to work on a very important assignment that's in your field of expertise.
If we can make this work, this is a confirmed promotion for you. So work hard, eh?"


"Hello Harper, welcome home. Really? You're gonna get promoted? I'm happy for you."


"Take a good look, Harper. This is what the Foundation has been working on behind the scenes.
We've nicknamed it 'Reset', an anomalous item we've been working on for quite some time now."


"Why are you suddenly asking me this? Oh, you got reminded of it because of your work?
Well, my biggest fear is forgetting everything that made me human.
All the times I spent with my family, friends and you."


"This intangible sphere you aren't looking at right now contains all records that the Foundation has. Basically it attaches to the mind of someone, to whoever that views it.
Meaning that you have it in your brain right now, and you can pull up Foundation records at any time! Amazing, innit?"


"Stop laughing at me! It's not that childish.
Now it feels unfair that you haven't told me your biggest fear. Come on, cough it up!"


"Oh? I'm not even surprised you managed to figure that out just from looking at the code for a few minutes.
Yeah, basically it can't be erased from the person's mind at all.
It was made specifically so that even if the Foundation collapses or gets annihilated, the O5s with these planted in their minds can still reset the Foundation.
Even if they get amnesticised by groups with malicious intent, the information stored in 'Reset' will be something they will never forget."


"Don't worry Harper, you don't have to be afraid of losing me. I'll always be by your side. C'mon, let's get to bed. You must be tired."


"Why are you asking me that?
I mean, to this date, no other researcher has reported that their 'Reset' has started talking to them.
Could you describe how it feels like? So there's basically a mini-Harper in you?
I think we might have to ascertain all properties of this little memory ball."


"Harper, there's something I need to tell you.
I don't know how, but our memories are linked. There is a 'Reset' in me."


"Harper, why do you look so pale?
What do you mean your wife knows everything about the Foundation now?
You can't just tell me that you don't know how this happened!"


"This thing in my head, I'm scared of it, Harper.
It keeps telling me of the Foundation in my own voice. It claims it's me.
Tells me that it came from you, that it hitchhiked on your memories and came into mine.


"Fuck! This is a containment breach.
Who could have known 'Reset' could just ride on a memory and use it as a gateway to someone else's brain?
If this is left uncontained, the whole world will know of our operations!
I need to tell the Head researcher about this."


"You know that one time in 2013 that I was really sad after my dad died?
Your fondest memory was the days you spent with me, trying to cheer me up.
The 'Reset' in your brain, the Harper in your brain, walked through that memory into mine.
It's like a record playing in my head.
Just keeps telling me things I don't want to know about the Foundation. Please, Harper. Get it out of my head.


"I know it's just a mutation, that it isn't your fault, but we risk having all our secrets spilled out to everybody.
I have no choice but to inform the higher-ups to stop this immediately.
I hope you understand, it's not my fault."


"Harper, are these people from the Foundation?
Have they finally come for me? It's fine, Harper, let them in, it's not your fault.
I'll always be with you, don't forget, alright?"


"You and Cynthia will be the target of our research now.
We need to know how it mutated from just being storage for information to some kind of self-propagating memory, so we can prevent this from ever happening again.
You will live under a new name after we amnesticise you and we'll be watching what other effects it manifests.
Your wife…. will be kept in the Foundation's care, as an instance of 'Reset' and she'll be used to study the effects of it.
I thought it'd be humane if I told you this.
I'm sorry Harper, it's not my decision, it's the Foundation's."

"Cynthia, I'm sorry!" Mikael Harper screamed, a desperate plea for forgiveness.

As he stood there, a deafening sound cut through the silent night. The MTF broke open the door that Harper had locked, with their tranquilliser guns pointed at him and Cynthia. Harper tried grabbing Cynthia's hands, to pull her close and try to keep her safe, but Cynthia shook her head slowly. As she looked at him for the last time with her green eyes, she whispered,

"I love you."

Harper's stomach dropped and his heart fell into a deep gulf as he saw Cynthia's limp and lifeless body falling down, hitting the floor in slow motion. As if to compensate for the lack of noise Cynthia fell down with, Harper opened his own mouth and let his guttural shriek come out through his teeth. The house itself shook, heaving and moaning in anguish and despair for Harper, who couldn't feel anything anymore because of the tranquilliser dart that had already embedded itself into his nape.

When it was all over he felt as if he was thrown off an endlessly tall building, whirled as gravity sucked him into an emptiness that
never
quite
touched
the bottom.



Harper opened his eyes suddenly, his skin glistening in sweat and his throat dry from the screams he let out in his state of unconsciousness. He looked at the clock on the dashboard. It was 7:23 pm. He was only out for 3 minutes, yet he felt as if he had aged an indescribable amount of time.

Looking at his reflection in the car's windows, it was a face he finally recognised, a face he almost forgot. It was Harper's face.

Harper took a few moments to calm his rapidly beating heart, collecting the thoughts and memories that had come back to him. Martha wasn't his wife. It was a stand-in for Cynthia. Turner was not his friend, another stand-in for Morrison. Identities that the Foundation had created for the amnesticised Harper, for Mikael.

He involuntarily touched his face, which was wet with tears. He knew what he had to do. Reversing his slightly dented car, he went back in the direction of the Foundation, knowing exactly where Cynthia was held.



After stopping his car in the woods beside the Site, Harper climbed over the fence and jumped down on to the hard pavement as gingerly as he could, as if he was trying not to awaken a huge slumbering monster.

Harper navigated through the hallways, feeling the walls twist and turn in a complex maze, spiralling downwards to a room with a metal door. There was no lock on it. Maybe it didn't need it. Was it because it was so expertly hidden that there was no need to lock it, or were the contents of the room not even important enough to bother hiding them from curious eyes?

He pushed the door open. Scanning the room, he saw a small bed tucked into the corner.

On the bed lay an emaciated woman that he recognised instantly. But she had changed so much. In place of the deep and dark brown hair the Harper loved, only tiny, shaved stalks of hair were left. The emerald-green eyes that Harper fell asleep to every night, those green eyes to enchanted him, were now glazed and empty and wide-open, like some soulless being that was staring into the nothingness that Harper couldn't comprehend.

Harper felt his knees buckle and give way, as if somebody had violently kicked the back of his knee joint in, crumpling down a few meters away from the bed Cynthia lay.

He felt a compulsion to clasp Cynthia's shoulders, shake her around and scream to her that he was back, that he remembered her. But these hands that wanted to touch her and awake her from this horrible dream couldn't move. They felt as cold and lifeless as Cynthia herself.

Of course, what was I thinking? How could she remember me?

Harper wept silently in the room dimly lit by an incandescent bulb. There were no more words he could say, and even the scream that he wanted to shout had died in his throat. He didn't bother turning his weak body around when he heard the door click open behind him.

"Turner." Harper whispered.

"How's it going, old friend? Looks like you've broken through your amnesticisation again."

There was a silence between the two men, one holding a small pill and a mug in his hands and the other kneeling, his shoulders dropped and his head sunken.

"Here, have this. It'll make you forget everything. You don't need to be sad anymore, Harper."

Turner walked in front of Harper and put the cup and pill in Harper's hands gently. Harper looked up at Turner, and he was greeted by Morrison's rugged face. He looked into those deep eyes that seemed to tell him that he was going to be fine again, that he would be able to forget everything, that he could have a chance to Reset.

Morrison was so close to him. Harper thought he should hate the man squatting in front of him more. But somehow, he could not muster up any hatred inside him towards the person who had brought such turmoil on to him. There was no flame of vengeance in his soul that desired to see others burnt, to see them blackened or changed, as he had been. It had been snuffed out by the huge draft of oppression that the Foundation blew. Even if he pulled down Morrison into the void with him, what difference would that make to the Foundation?

Harper let out a small, wistful laugh.

Tilting his head backwards, he swallowed the pill and his pain, and drowned it out with the water, drinking from the mug as if it was the last action he would do before he died. Soon, he was plunged into the void, an intermediary limbo before his next reincarnation.


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