The World Forgetting, By the World Forgot
rating: +73+x

Dark. Light switch, non-functioning. One door, one window. Concrete walls. Head pounding, but no visible wounds. Left arm in a cast, likely broken. Applied by someone with little prior experience, judging by the stabbing pains in his shoulder and elbow. Desk, chair, laptop computer. Note. Short message, blurry. Signed “Lloyd”. Shit.

Lloyd staggers to his feet while he waits for his vision to clear. He slumps on the chair, trying his best to ignore the insistent throbbing in his left temple. The laptop is open: it's presumably his, but he doesn't recognise the brand. The dim screen, he notices, is the only thing illuminating his surroundings. His dirt-encrusted, grime-covered, dilapidated surroundings. Still shaking off the effects of unconsciousness Lloyd peers through the window. The sky outside is darkened, but there's still a thin sliver of daylight around the horizon. Probably either morning or evening. He looks at his watch and is only mildly surprised by the blank white circle that stares back at him. He sighs.

What was he doing? The note, right. He picks it up, squinting hard to decipher the strange black squiggles. It seems to be a list. Item one: Pills. He looks to the desk: A white tube, cardboard, with three pills inside. He swallows one, and turns back to the note. Item two: drink. Lloyd isn't thirsty, but he drains the glass next to him anyway. The fluid is a clear blue and burns as he swallows it. Disgusting. Tastes like battery acid. Clearly medicinal. Item three: Alphabet. Ah, now we're getting properly cryptic. It wouldn't be a proper blackout/memory-loss drama without a poorly worded message from his previous self. He puts his dignity aside and loudly recites the alphabet, turning to the laptop in embarrassment when nothing happens.

The display is damaged slightly, with masking tape over the top right corner. Bodge job. Typical shoddy work from his prior iteration. Lloyd reaches for the mouse and sighs for the second time, despairing his own lacklustre attitude to DIY. He clicks the first tab he sees, bringing up a heavily censored document. Foundation, definitely. Formatting suggests the first 1000-block. He scans the text. America is mentioned, and also Doctor Hughes. John Marachek is referenced too, whoever he is. Lloyd vaguely remembers a site director called Marachek, a small bald man with a brightly coloured tie. A quick search yields over 673 results for “Marachek” across multiple sites and countless anomalies. No useful info other than the fact that he probably works in the North-West. Most likely either site 34, 19, or 46, unless he's been recently transferred. Not impossible. All in all, about 400 different possible scips, disregarding the Safes. A third sigh is probably in order, but Lloyd doesn't want to exert himself too much. He's got a lot left to deduce, after all. He shudders involuntarily and feels the room come into focus around him. He can almost feel the strange liquid fermenting in his stomach. He slides gracelessly off his chair, and falls to the floor, his gaze falling on the yellowing post-it taped to the wall.

The word Alphabet is still there, as cryptic and unyielding as it was before. He must have been off his face when he wrote this. Then again, if he's been taking this stuff regularly, it's surprising he even managed to write a note at all. Then, with all the perception of a drunkard, Lloyd notices a series of numbers scrawled in the margin, with an arrow following from “alphabet”. Starting at 26, and counting down in ones and twos. The last entry is 18. He recites the alphabet again, taking care to count off the letters on his fingers as he goes. Sixteen letters in, he reaches Z. The alphabet's getting shorter then, somehow. Or he's getting dumber. He gropes for a pencil, striking through the last item and scrawling 16 below it. What's going to happen when it reaches zero? He reasons that it's better not to speculate, and looks carefully at the note, peering through the haze for anything he may have missed.

There's a circle in the bottom right corner, with a diagonal line through it and a three above it, slightly to the right. No wonder he didn't see it earlier, it's been almost entirely covered with dirt and dust. He grins despite himself. A clue. Fighting through the numbness that's gripping his brain, Lloyd tries his best to think clearly. The circle is weirdly drawn, with a thicker line at the bottom. Is that important? He doesn't know, but he makes a mental note of it anyway. The number three. Thrice, triple, 3 times one. Three, three what? Three is prime, he knows that. Three sides to a triangle. Circle-Line-Triangle? No, that's not it. He turns over the post-it. The word IMPORTANT and a couple of short paragraphs. Looks like he had occasional periods of lucidity. Hooray for drugs. He shifts his weight and prepares to read.

“It got out. We don't know how, or why it waited this long. If you can still move, we've got a chance. The drugs should help; we got enough for a couple of years. Stay strong.”

For the first time, Lloyd sees a mattress in the corner of the room, with a single tattered blanket. There is a framed photograph next to it, though he can't make out what it's of. A woman, possibly, but certainly not one he recognises.

“We can't leave here. It's too strong. I, and by extension, you, have seen what it does to people. Children starving in the streets. Strangers walking off bridges, into machinery, in front of trains. Forgetting how to breathe. People running for shelter as the bombs fell. Our bombs, Lloyd. Whatever happened, we tried to stop it. We failed.”

His head is pounding harder now, with his heart-rate increasing to match. He takes a couple of deep lungfuls of air. He attempts to sit up, wincing involuntarily as he leans on his cast. The note lies on the ground, tantalisingly mysterious. A circle. A shortening alphabet. Something that kills people. The Foundation's biggest failure.

Suddenly, it clicks. Not the clearest diagram, but he was working with a broken arm. Depth is hard to convey when you're writing in whiteboard marker. A three. Exponentiated. Two, squared; three, cubed. A circle cubed. A sphere. And a line. Not a sphere. “It's something you can't remember. And it's not a sphere.” He laughs, despite himself. Fewer than 16 letters of the alphabet. He can't even recall something as simple as that. It's stronger than we ever would have believed. He looks at his watch again, properly this time. He can just make out the numbers, beneath a white haze of disinformation. The woman was probably his wife. Once. It's spreading. It's not observing, it's destroying. The pills are almost used up. He'll only have to go through this a couple more times at the most. He spasms again. He took far too much to be healthy. And it still made him forget. We never stood a chance. Should he have left more mnestics for when he wakes up? It doesn't, he reasons, make much of a difference at this point.

Samuel Lloyd closes his eyes, silently laughing at the futility of it all.
When he next opens them, there's nothing left to laugh at.

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