03:04:27 - Lonesome Clone

Shimo sat upright with a start. He was in the medlab. How he got there was the confusing part, just a few minutes ago -

A few minutes ago was a blank.

Shimos mind was a blur, his head was spinning wildly. Perhaps he'd been drinking?

He stood up and held onto the med table until the floor spiralled back to center. Slowly, he padded his way over to the door and opened it, the click of the lock echoing through the room like thunder. The hallway outside was empty, even the ever-present sound of the television in the break room was gone. Shimo hurried out of the medlab, but the inched down the hallway cautiously, as if expecting a surprise attack. It wasn't his birthday.

The television was on. Strangely, however, it showed a vacant news anchor's desk, an image of an empty street superimposed on the left side. Shimo looked around, found the remote, and change the channel. Another empty desk. The next channel was a rerun of F-Troop, Shimo knew the episode; Agarn sells a bunch of cigars to the indians only to discover later they're actually sticks of TNT. After watching for a moment, Shimo changed to the next channel, which showed an empty studio, a game show stage with empty podiums.

Something was definitely wrong.

The next channel confirmed that. It was a shot of Toronto taken from the top of a building. The week's weather forecast was layred over top of the scene in yellow letters and animated smiling suns. But what caught Shimo's attention was the fact that the streets were completely empty. There were no cars, no buses, no airplanes, no pedestrians, nobody in any of the windows.

Shimo decided this was a good time to panic.

An hour later, he slumped back in his chair and took a sip of coffee. It was good coffee, he'd made it himself and, unlike the coffee Phil made, an entire pot of it was made on barely a half a cup of grinds.

Shimo was sitting in the meeting room, the only place in the building aside from the comm room where all the systems were accessible from one terminal. On the large, flat-panel screen hanging from the wall was a green, wire-frame grid around a sphere with a hundred small orange dots orbitting it; Shimo had looked at similar satellite tracking displays many times before, and knew without counting that all of Earth's satellites were alive and kicking. What was conspicuously missing, however, was the large orange dot representing Flarm.

There was also a complete lack of live traffic on any of the broadcasts. Machine-controlled tape feeds, like the sitcom reruns and the Television Guide channel, were running without problem. No broadcasts requiring technicians were running.
In fact, it seemed as if the entire planet was empty. Shimo couldn't even get Radar to respond, which was as certain a sign that something was amiss as Shimo could have hoped for.

It took him twenty minutes to hack into the agent log system, but found nothing unusual. Jack's last journal entry was about a visiting Partuuni insurance salesman. Rhinos was about the recovery of a lost Fth'ng sensor rocket. Phil gave a monotone run-down of all the repair work she'd done in the last three days, while the new girl, Carla, gave a half-rambling account of the Darnunian micro-bat that flew up her nose. Roger's description of a dream he'd had left Shimo both more frightened than he'd ever been and also strangely aroused.

But there were no reports of anything strange.

It was definitely time for a little investigation.

"Screw the investigation," Shimo said, to nobody in particular.

He'd driven into the city and found that not only was everyone gone, but the stores were all left completely stocked and in perfect operating order. At the moment, Shimo was reclining in a chaise outside of a mall, sipping on a chilled Frappuccino, and dressed in an Armani suit, a pair of alligator skin boots, and several pounds of gem-encrusted gold jewelry. Shimo raised his drink in a salute to the setting sun.

The first stop he'd made after leaving headquarters was the Home Depot, where he immediately abandoned his search for clues in favor of racing up and down the aisles on one of the flat carts. After crashing the cart into a calk gun display, he attempted to build a giant birdhouse in the lumber section, but quickly realized he hadn't a clue as to how to work most of the power tools he found. He did, however, know how to operate a chainsaw, and spent the next twenty minutes sawing through as many sawable objects as he could find.

The he'd wandered outside and discovered a brand new BMW sitting in the no-parking zone; the keys were on the passenger seat. Shimo hopped into the car and listened to it snap to life as he turned the key in the ignition. He set the radio on "seek," and watched in annoyance as it spun from one dead station to another. Irritated, Shimo revved the engine and slammed it into gear. The car took off with a squeal, hopped the sidewalk, and crashed into the wall of the building. The airbag threw Shimo backwards in his seat, where he stayed, laughing, for several minutes.

He climbed out of the BMW and started scouting around for another vehicle with keys. He found a pickup truck with a chaise in the back. A few minutes later, as he sat waiting for the light to change, it dawned on him that there were no police and, consequently, no speed limits or stop signs. The pickup proved to be more than up to the task of driving not only on sidewalks, but also up the stairs and through the door of the local mall, but not much farther.

From there, Shimo took to riding a handicapped persons electric scooter around the mall. He stopped at a computer game store, then realized he had nobody to play against. He then stopped at a sporting goods store and grabbed a backpack in order to carry any booty he might acquire, but while looting a jewelry store it dawned on him that, even if he took valuables with him, he had no place to take them too. That's when he decided to stuff the backpack with Frappuccinos, which Shimo had decided were far too expensive to actually pay for.

As he left the mall, having pilfered from whatever stores caught his attention, Shimo spotted the sun, just about to set. He set the backpack on the ground and walked back in to retrieve the chaise from the pickup truck. After dragging the chaise back outside, Shimo sat down to enjoy a quiet sunset, content in the events of the day.

This, Shimo decided, was by far the best day he'd ever had, even if he could only remember a few hours. Tomorrow, he vowed, would be even better than today. Shimo had an entire lifetime to explore.

"Ok," Jack said, checking his watch, "shut it down."

"Are you sure?" Rhino said.

"I don't like it either," Jack said. "But we have to face facts, Rhino, it's been over four hours and we've gotten no response to our attempts to contact him. We can't keep the Planck generator running when we don't even know he's alive."

"Please let me state again how dreadfully sorry I am," Dr. Mvruu'u said, curling his antennae apologetically. "We've created dozens of quantum bubbles before and never had anyone get sucked into one like that."

"It was a fluke," Jack offered.

Dr. Mvruu'u nodded.

"So, uh, what do you think it's like in there?" Rhino asked. "I mean, if he did survive."

"Well," Dr. Mvruu'u said, "the most common theory regarding universal bubbles like this is that the first person to observe the physics of the new universe would actually define the laws of physics there. So if Shimo did surive the leap into the bubble, he would most likely find a universe that's his ideal existence."

"Wow," Rhino said.

"Well, it's nice to think he went out happy," Jack said.

Jack and Rhino watched over Dr. Mvruu'u's shoulder as he turned a few dials, and then the small purple bubble winked out of existence.