L'appel du Vide
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"Morning, Mikael."

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


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 and deep blue eyes. However, even though her eyes usually captivated him, it seemed so unsettling today. For no discernible reason, he felt disappointed-and a little nauseous-to see his wife.

Massaging his brow, he dismissed his questionable reaction to Martha. 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 them kicking. I couldn't sleep after that; I was too excited."

His eyes drifted down Martha's full-vase body, eventually settling on her round abdomen.

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 perpetually in motion. He felt guilty leaving her alone at home. What if she went into labour while Mikael wasn't around?

Somehow, she managed to dispel these thoughts, convincing Mikael that his work was more important than her, that it was a-okay to leave her at home.

"Worry makes you age faster-you'll look ugly if you keep up your negative thinking," she mentioned.

"…Anyways, I made some kaya toast for you, it's on the kitchen counter. If you want coffee, it's in the thermos. Could you help me to the sofa? My back's 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 uniform, and prepared to leave 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 recalled the first time he asked the Head Researcher about who these people were, and was dismissed rudely. Only later did he find out that these were people who were going through amnesticisation.

However, what never faded in him despite all this time was a compulsion to stretch out his hands towards these empty people and shake them violently. The urge to tell them and remind them of their past lives, their feelings, the people they loved, and those they hated. But he wasn't some clairvoyant; he couldn't see what they had lost. In the end, he always ended up pulling those hands back into his jacket. Those hands felt cold as they nested in his pockets today.

He switched on the lights to his office. Although it was usually bustling with activity at this time already, there was no one in sight today. Figuring that he might as well continue his project, he walked towards the cubicles.

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

"What? Is it already the 7th?" Mikael exclaimed, pleasantly and genuinely surprised.

"Further proof that you care about the Foundation more than yourself. Catch a break sometime, man." 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."

Mikael grinned.

"I love you, dude."

Pleased at Mikael's response, Turner took the cake from Frieda's hands and placed it on the table. Mikael was handed a plastic knife. Looking around, he was surrounded with all of his colleagues in the department. It was pretty embarrassing to be the centre of this much attention, but when he saw the expectant looks on their smiling faces, he sighed in exaggerated exasperation. Urged on by his friends, 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. In this wonderful job, with my wonderful wife and my wonderful friends.

Everybody cheered as he blew the candle out. The small flame flickered as Mikael blew it, clinging on to its dear life until it was eventually reduced into a few smoky tendrils.

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, Mikael." 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.

"Always the miser, aren't you? Let's not care about that on your day, alright? Enjoy."

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

Turner smiled, walking out of Mikael's office after they bumped fists.

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

"Hey, 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. Producing three plastic cups, he filled all three to their brims.

"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.

He felt as if a shotgun loaded with flavour was exploded into the back of his throat. The scent of musky grapes relaxed the muscles in his body, and a wave of pleasure overcame him.

After that, every time someone came over to his cubicle to greet him, Mikael would find an excuse to drink with them. By the end of the day, the bottle was completely empty. The sun had already set; it was 7:09 pm. Swiping his stuff into his bag, the red-faced 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. Turner was the last person he wanted to see right now. After all, it would be shameful to admit that the whole bottle had been drunk. Mikael tried to formulate a sentence despite his fuzzy mind.

"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 the sentence.

"Alright, drive safe. Tell your wife I said hey." Turner waved and headed back into the compound.

Mikael's body lost its stiff posture, relieved that Turner didn't realise the state Mikael was in. His hands were trembled 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 unsuccessful attempts, he realised he had been turning the key in the wrong direction. After the final frustrating try, the engine finally started up. Navigating the steering wheel shakily, Mikael steered out of the car park into the snow-covered road.

His mind wandered as he drove on the narrow, iced-over 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 own 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. 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 it, smashing it apart, and its reconstruction was left to 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.

Hello Mikael.

Who are you? Are you god?

No, I'm Harper.

Well, nice to meet you, Harper. I figure I am dead?


Then where am I?

A memoryscape.

So the movies were correct. Am I about to see my whole life flash before my eyes?

Partially correct. Your memories will come back to you, but you aren't exactly dead yet.

Then, what is this place?

Just somewhere for us to talk to each other.

On what grounds do you think I would be willing to talk with you?

On the basis that you're having a conversation with yourself.

You're not making sense right now. Who exactly are you?

Let's say I'm just someone 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 after the disembodied voice stopped talking. His body lurched forwards, 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 spiralling into deep and dark black. The thick viscous liquid caught him 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.

Yet, he had the sudden compulsion to reach out towards them, to wade towards them and grab their feets. A deep loneliness that Mikael couldn't comprehend manifested deep in his chest.

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?"

"Hey Harper, had a good day at work? You look oddly happy. Oh my gosh.
You got a promotion? Congratulations!"

"Take a good look, Harper. This is what the Foundation has been working on behind the scenes. We've nicknamed it 'Reset', it's something we've been working on for some time.
Our very own anomaly!"

"Honestly, I don't get why you've got to make a big deal. It's such a simple question.
Of course my biggest fear is losing the memories of the times I spent with you, my family."

"This intangible sphere you aren't looking at right now contains all records that the Foundation has. It can attach to anyone that does so much as look at it.
Meaning, it's literally in your brain right now! Amazing, eh?"

"Stop laughing. it's not that childish. I know it felt good when I said that.
Ugh, now I'm embarrassed. Come on, cough it up!"

"I'm not that surprised you managed to figure that out just from looking at the code for a few minutes. You're not the poster boy for our department for no reason.
Anyways, as I was saying, it can't be…deleted from someone's mind after it's already attached.
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.
So the O5s will never have to fear getting amnesticised again, and they sure as hell won't ever lose the empire they've built up."

"Oh. So both our fears is losing one another, huh? Haha, you're such a big baby!
…Don't worry Harper, I'll always be by your side. Forever."

"Why are you asking me that?
I mean, no. No other researcher has reported that their 'Reset' has started talking to them yet.
Could you describe this mini-Harper in your brain? It might assist us in our next breakthrough."

"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?
And you're just telling me that you don't know how this happened?"

"I'm scared of this thing in my head, Harper. Keeps telling me things about
the Foundation that I don't want to know. It said it hitchiked on your memories into mine.
Please, Harper. Get it out.

"Damn! This is a containment breach. We didn't anticipate this!
How were we supposed to know it could infect others as well? We can't afford to
have all our operations revealed to the world."

"It said it rode the most precious memory you had into mine. That time
in 2013 when my parents passed away and you were there to comfort me, it was your
most precious memory. We share this memory. We share a link for Reset."

"I know it's just a mutation, that it isn't your fault, but we risk the Veil being
broken. I have no choice but to inform the higher-ups about this incident. It's not my fault,
I hope you understand."

"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 into 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 may manifest.

Your wife….will be kept in the Foundation's care, as an instance of 'Reset'. She'll be a test subject from now on. I just 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 strained 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 in a final desperate attempt, 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 down 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 own 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
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. Who was she? A stranger living in the same house as him. He felt disgusted. He wanted to vomit. It was all just an identity that the Foundation had created for the amnesticised Harper to keep him placid as the unsuspecting 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, trying not to awake the huge slumbering monster that was the Foundation.

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 that 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 he was no clairvoyant, even if he was able to tell the past, he couldn't assure her of her future. His cold hands dropped by his sides.

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

Harper wept silently in the room dimly lit by a single incandescent bulb. There were no more words he could say, and the scream that he wanted to shout had long since died in the back of his throat. He didn't even 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, only to be greeted by Morrison's rugged face. He looked deep into Morrison's eyes, searching for the tiny glimmer that told him he was going to be alright, that he was going to have another chance to start over and forget. Another chance to reset.

Although the man who had caused him an endless amount of suffering was right in front of him, Harper could not bring himself to hate Morrison. All thoughts of rebellion were snuffed out by the huge draft of oppression that the Foundation blew, and Harper, just like a tiny flame that was clinging on to its dear life, was blown out into a few smoky tendrils.

Harper let out a small, wistful laugh.

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

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