Memento Vivere

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"…substantial progress has been made. We're hoping to have this all done within the year, maybe two." Lyn Marness speaks proudly as he walks down the corridor, six-and-a-half feet of confidence in himself and his work. The men behind him, the secretaries sent by the O5s, scurry along with their faces in clipboards.

The person calling themselves Osamu barely notices the approaching director. They are far too busy, staring intently into an old microscope. There, there! Just between the lines of fabric. A flash. A rip. Something that's not right.

They scribble something on a piece of paper. Their desk is neat, orderly; anything to remove distractions. Clock on the wall. Medal sitting on a table. They want to concentrate on work and nothing else. They don't like thinking about other things.

Their appearance is similarly tidy. Middle-aged, tall, short black hair parted neatly. Immaculate, crisp suit, polished and gleaming shoes. The kind of smartness that fills the time and keeps you occupied.

"…and this is one of our finest researchers, Dr. Osa- sorry, Dr. Hisakawa Osamu. I can never remember how Japanese names work." The secretaries make a polite noise as Marness chuckles to himself.

Osamu turns and smiles, equally politely. "It is my pleasure to meet you", he murmurs. He waits expectantly.

"And what are you working on today, Hisakawa?"

Osamu relaxes. No small talk. "I'm working on a way to create a physical entity with self-deleting memetic properties. We already have certain examples found in, uh, "nature", but the way in which we work makes these difficult to study or replicate. We always need more funding, after all", he finishes in a burst of creativity. Marness cracks an approving smile, and Osamu feels the danger ebbing. Marness is alright really.

"Well, gentlemen, shall we continue?" The director stalks off as Osamu returns to work, to atoms seen and unseen. They hope they'll finish the project soon.

They don't realise they already have.

Once, there was an asteroid belt. Nothing was known to have lived there. Very little was on record.

Then humans, full to bursting on Earth, decided to colonise the stars. An existence without exploitation seemed inconceivable to them, especially now that nobody could die. "What's the harm", came the cry across the nations, and they set to work stripping the sky bare.

And so humans came to the asteroid belt, and started building on it. But these ones were different. They were hard, cold, imperious. They were not here to mine, but to create the perfect prison.

Thirteen asteroids, bound together and linked by vast tunnels of platinum. Antigravity chambers, luxury humanoid containment suites, monsters buried in the centre of the rocks. And between them all, a huge cylinder a thousand miles long, staffed to the brim with bureaucracy, surveillance, libraries, secret plans and a hidden hegemony. Agents in the Empire, the New Jade Nation, Celestria and even the Confederacy, all reporting back to the central hub at the edge of the world.

This was the Foundation.

"State your name, rank, and the materials you require."

The woman's face was perfect. Too perfect. Everything was symmetrical, with nothing out of place. Tsukiko felt a sickening horror as she peered, unable to look away. She hadn't bothered to keep up with the latest fashions, but this was somehow worse than the kineto-constructs or the abberant flesh that had defined the fashions last millenium. This was an older ideal, one that could never be lived up to.

"Dr. Hisakawa Tsukiko. Level 3 Researcher, on indefinite leave since 4284. Requiring information on antimemetics in the late 20th and early 21st centuries."

The woman did not react, but simply tapped a few keys on a keyboard. Mary looked bored; Mehmed was staring around in wonder. A tiny desk, in front of a tiny door, before endless rows of- books? Data tables? He could see no end, no beginning, just uniform shelves stretching up to the sky, with staircases climbing all around.

The librarian finally moved: a single eyebrow, raised upwards. "You have been a Foundation employee since 1951, barring a short retirement period in the 21st century."

Tsukiko frowned. "I joined the Foundation in '77."

"Yes. That is what you'd think." The woman sighed, a slight movement of lips and breath. "I'm sorry, but due to the nature of your leave and certain… other notes, I cannot let you remove any materials."

Shit. "Listen. We are both on the same side here. Tell me what your na-"

But Mary was stepping forward, and drawing out a keycard. She showed it to the librarian, whose eyes widened slightly. Another few taps, and then, "Grid 813. Do not stray. Take a lamp, and use no fire."

Mary led them past the desk, and into the shelves. Mehmed considered asking, but thought better of it. This was not a place where one spoke of secrets. In every hall, an eye was watching.

The Foundation had to flee. At the risk of attracting lawyers from the Asimov estate, the Foundation-in-Space plan was the only way to survive the increasing anger as the Foundation's role in Omega-K was revealed. For every two people heaping lavish praise on their inadvertent miracle, there was someone who had suffered and wanted a scapegoat. The bombing of Site-19 was the final straw; they packed their bags and went to space, leaving only shadows in their wake.

It is impregnable. It is filled with countermeasure upon countermeasure, antimemes and incantations of spinning fire and depths that even the Council has forgotten. It has grown into a beast beyond itself, so much a part of the anomalous world that the two are perpetually intertwined.

It has also become a major political force. Potentates of the Empire and representatives of Celestria all gather within great halls designed for their containment. An elaborate political drama is constructed to let each think they are in charge of the universe, while men in suits write notes behind closed curtains.

One would think that the architecture and construction would be as cold and unforgiving as the Foundation itself, but Foundation has altered over the years, millenia of myth crystallising into function. And besides, the place has a life of its own that has gone far beyond the builders' intentions. One day, a few years ago, two statues- of Joyce Michaels and Emily Young- suddenly stood flanking the main entrance to the shipyard. Above, a Latin tag loomed over the passing ships.

Memento vivere- remember you will live.

Was it a boast? A statement of defiance? An admission of guilt? Nobody could say because nobody remembered its construction. That should have frightened them, but this kind of thing was an everyday occurrence at the Foundation. They died in the dark so the others could live in the light; they were not afraid of either. Or so they told themselves.

Tsukiko held the lamp as the three of them walked through, slowly. Occasionally they would look up, but the shelves descended into darkness until they could see nothing else. Then they'd look down, and see themselves walking miles below, heads staring up.

"How does that-" began Mehmed, but Tsukiko just waved him away. She stopped at a staircase, and began to climb. The staircase was gold, a thin silver band weaving its way along the bannister. She was muttering under her breath.

"Space conservation", said Mary. "There isn't enough here for all the data, so they fracture the physical world and make many places in one place. Thousands of us each going through a different timeline, in the same hallways, but with different tablets. The floor and ceiling act as a screens in case an SOS is necessary. One of these versions will find the tablets, and when we emerge, we become whole again.

Mehmed nodded. He looked up, trying to see something, anything. It was all maddeningly regular. Endless and dark spaces, small floodlights embedded into the floor at precise intervals. No overhead lights.

He wandered in one direction. There was a line of shelves with no lights. Were they broken? Was something wrong with them? No, that wasn't it. The darkness seemed deliberate.

He started forward, more deliberately. There was something at the end of the tunnel, something he couldn't quite make out. It was holding a lantern, like he was, but it wasn't him. It had more teeth, to begin with.

He made great strides onward. He wanted his legs to stop, but they couldn't. Something that was like him was making the exact same movements, and approaching him. It was smiling. Something was coming from his mouth, bleeding, white, shining-

And then Mary was dragging him backwards, and pushed him to the floor. He tried to crawl back, lamely, until he realised what he was doing and stopped. He was drenched in sweat. "Thanks", he muttered.

"You're welcome." Mary sounded nervous. "Do not stray, she said."

"Alexandria in Space", some of them called it, but the collected mass of data the Foundation had gained far outstripped a collection of mere human lives. Within the hall were several duty librarians, perfect and grim; a hundred or so sub-librarians, each of whom retained some level of collective consciousness despite being fragmented into a hundred thousand pieces; and the Mother, a hidden figure who dwelt in an antechamber and watched, through her eyes, all that happened.

By tradition, the Mother was a member of the Council, but it had been a long time since it had been anything but a symbolic position for any of them. So the task was left to a deputy, a Level 3 or 4, who would don the ancient white robe and spend their days staring and twitching. The official duties of the Mother were simply to look after the tablets, to ensure their upkeep, but everyone knew that this was just a lie they told one another.

Because the truth would have meant acknowledging that they had not built their palace in empty space. That the asteroids were not just convenient rocks, or a useful refuge. And nobody could acknowledge that, because they'd heard the words of the ones who had, and they never wanted to again.

So every now and again, between the stacks, a piece of a scholar would go missing, and the rest of them would follow. And their names would be wiped clean, a generic memorial would be said, and that was that. But when the family members, coming from Earth or Shu or wherever else, asked what had happened to their relatives, the researchers would simply smile, and move away. It was not uncommon to see a mother or a father running between small groups standing at a wake, fleeing from blankness to blankness, trapping themselves in ignorance.

"Here". One of the Tsukikos in one of the fractures had found it. Her Mary and Mehmed scrambled up, and stared together at the screen.

A quick search found the right file. "ANTIMEMETICS RECORDS UNDER M. WHEELER UP TO 2009". They tensed, slightly, as Tsukiko gently pressed the button.

We are sorry. Owing to the continued need for secrecy within the Foundation, this file has been removed to the Three Point Antimemetic Screening Facility on Gongji City, Celestria. Have a nice day.

"That's all?" came Mary's dissatisfied voice. "We travelled how many lightyears to get here, and they can't even do their jobs properly?"

Tsukiko sighed. "I half-expected this. Marion didn't want me to understand. The whole point was that the- whatever this thing was, it would die with me. Why would she want anyone to remember? Why would the records be easy? No, they wanted to make things difficult. Nobody thought that death would end."

She replaced the tablet, and stared up. Somewhere up there, another Tsukiko was looking down.

As the trio's ship headed back through space, the librarian moved some numbers on a screen. They told her everything: who they were, where they'd been, where they were going next. She cocked her head, slightly, and hummed.

Then she completed her shift, walked back to her dormitory, and exchanged her body for another one. A fun, happy, expressive body. She'd go to a bar, and have a great time, drinking and laughing and catching up. You'd never know it was the tight-lipped librarian with the perfectly greying hair.

Then, before she turned out the light, she'd put on a sleeping body; comfortable, dozy, simple. She'd yawn, and let sleep take her, making her all new again.

Except for a few moments before bed, when her eyelids were shut, and she'd see white teeth leering from the shadows.

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