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Interlude 3 Main Chapters Interlude 4

Chapter 4

Kent Slade was standing upon the ground floor of Dr. Sanada's house. They had decided not to send him into Dr. Sanada's basement in the other world in case the basement didn't exist in the other world. Kent turned about him and called out to Dr. Sanada. No one seemed to have noticed his presence, and no one seemed to be home. Dr. Sanada had seen him off in his original world, and in the synthesis world, his transport had been registered as an abnormal spike in the readings, but here Kent's presence was unremarked.

Kent proceeded to explore the house, calling Dr. Sanada's name every once in a while. The house looked almost exactly like Dr. Sanada's. Little details like the pantry full of the doctor's favorite brand of ramen noodles indicated that in this parallel world, the doctor lived in this same location and in this same house; the minor differences must be what made this universe distinct from the other. Most of the minor differences were things like even more dust in some of the rooms; Dr. Sanada lived here, but he didn't seem to be home very often.

Looking in the basement, it looked almost exactly the same, except for several key components. The Super Ultra-Deluxe Parallel World Transporter was incomplete. It looked like it was a partially constructed first model of the transporter, and judging from the dust and spider webs, it had been abandoned for many years. Kent could not imagine what would compel Dr. Sanada to abandon his beloved research, nor why the picture of his beloved wife and child was totally absent. He had seen no reference to either in the entire house.

After checking the time he had remaining in this world, still at least eleven and a half hours, Kent replaced his signaler in his pocket. He drummed his fingers on a counter top, then decided against waiting for Dr. Sanada or even leaving a note. One reason was that he didn't want to create some sort of reality-destroying chain of cause and effect like he had read about in science fiction. The other reason was that he didn't know whether he could trust whoever lived here. The house proved it was Dr. Sanada, but he had no idea whether this world's Dr. Sanada was good or evil, and he'd rather not inform an evil Dr. Sanada of his presence here. Perhaps this was more science fiction paranoia, but he thought some precautions should be taken. Anywhere in this alternate world, he figured the least said about his point of origin, the better. He didn't want to be considered insane.

Kent therefore decided to set out and explore the city. It was a nice place to live. Dr. Sanada's house was in a suburban area, and Kent's apartment was in a more urban area, but both were close to the college. As he slipped on his sunglasses, Kent decided to head in the general direction of the college. He didn't have any particular desire to meet himself, if that was possible, but it seemed as good a destination as any.

Leaves rustled slightly along the sidewalk, directly in front of him. Birds chirped. Kent found it odd for some reason, then realized what was wrong. There were no noises of people. No television sets were left on in houses, no cars zoomed past him on the street. No one else was out walking, no one was working or playing in their yards. This was constant even as he entered the urban area, where there should've been many cars zooming past, pedestrians on their way to work or a restaurant, buildings with lights and humming computers and businesspeople.

After passing several tall buildings, Kent decided to try the main door of one. It was locked. He peered into its large glass windows. No one was waiting at the reception desk, and the lights were all turned off. The building was clearly as empty as the streets. Kent shivered, not realizing that he had done so.

Kent had still been headed towards the college, but now began to consider things as he walked onwards. Before, this world's loneliness had bored and mildly disturbed him. Now he wondered if there were some sort of danger that had made these people evacuate. Was there a tsunami or a typhoon coming? Were people in this universe able to anticipate major earthquakes and leave ahead of them? These thoughts made him pull out his pocket signaler in case a quick getaway were required.

With a deep breath, he forced calm into himself. The information he had contradicted those scenarios. The probe had returned scenes very similar to what he was seeing here: streets devoid of people and cars. Yet those images were captured a week ago in a different city. He couldn't think of any natural disaster that would take a week to cover the distance between the two cities. Perhaps both cities were always deserted; maybe there had been nuclear war, the cities were too radiated to live in, and he was now contaminated. He stopped, both to rest and to consider things further. Perhaps he ought to leave now. He couldn't seem to find out anything here anyways. There was no one to ask what had happened. Kent chuckled slightly at that. Probably he wasn't contaminated in any way. Probably he should return to the laboratory. He took a few paces as a thought struck him; perhaps next time he ought to teleport into a different city in the parallel world. As he reached for the button, Kent decided he'd have to tell Dr. Sanada that idea.

There was a whistling sound for a short period of time, and a missile which many seconds ago missed its target now struck a building behind Kent. The edifice shivered for a fraction of a second, its glass windows trembling and shattering, shards of the glass flying forward through the air. The missile exploded a nanosecond after impact, and there was a keening as the building's steel structural elements were strained beyond their tolerances, a roar as the masonry of the top story where it hit cracked and was flung loose, following the paths of the glass shards, which had not yet met the ground. The glass shards finally dropped to the street, and the concrete, slowed only by air resistance, followed after. The largest chunk of debris, which was nearly seven feet wide and had once been most of the corner of the highrise, hit some sixteen feet in front of Kent, its kinetic energy meeting a weak point in the street. Burrowing into the hollow subway tunnel underneath, the projectile embedded itself into the rails of the subway track and ceased its forward motion. Even as it ceased, the street near the impact point crumbled into the new hole, until a crater fifteen feet in diameter had been created.

Nearly at the same time, a rock the size of a baby's fist or a golf ball struck the back of Kent's head at an acute angle. Kent's consciousness was immediately cut off, his finger centimeters from the button. His body, uncontrolled, pitched forward, and his hand released the signaler. It bounced off the ground, hovered for a moment, and was tagged by the edge of five hundred pounds of rubble. The top half of it, which contained most of its working components, was crushed and buried beneath the rubble. The signaler from Kent's pocket gave out a few sparks as its inductors were rapidly discharged, and gave up its ghost.

Another piece of flying rubble drew near Kent's side as he fell. It sliced his skin, ripped his shirt, and squarely hit the signaler in the holster Kent wore under his shirt. There was a rip as the leather ripped, inaudible amidst all the other noises had Kent even been conscious to hear it. The rock transferred to the signaler and the schematics with it a great deal of its momentum, and all of them flew united towards the crater in the street. The schematics, in transit, were struck by intensely hot detritus from the missile's explosives, and immediately caught fire. By the time the rock, the signaler from the holster, and the schematics landed inside the crater as one projectile, the schematics were blackened beyond recognition. The signaler from the holster responded to the compressive forces exerted upon it by breaking many components inside it and cracking its display. The combined projectile had fallen into seepage from the subway station, and the remaining components were short-circuited by the water. The schematics were extinguished, now nothing more than soggy ashes.

After this incredible display of unintentional violence, the immediate area was deathly quiet. Farther off could be heard the reports of large-caliber guns, and the whoosh and whistle of missile launches. Fine particles settled and coated Kent's mouth and nostrils and sunglasses. The off-putting scent of high explosives hung in the air. Ten minutes passed as Kent lay insensible upon the pavement. Blood was welling from the cut on the back of his head and the cut on his side, but it eventually clotted.

Inchoate groans of incomprehensible pain were Kent's first sounds to escape his lips when the ten minutes had expired. He attempted to raise his head but its hurt before it had moved an inch made him lie where he was. The ache died down, and he managed to raise his head. He stared at the signaler from his pocket, buried underneath the rubble. He could clearly see its shape though only half of it was exposed. No emotional reaction to this was forthcoming. Kent stood up and saw the new-formed pit only a foot before him, yet this newly generated abyss held no terror for him. Indeed, he took a lurching step towards it, his balance precarious though he knew it not. He stood there for ten seconds, unendurable had anyone with pity been there to see him so close to falling. Kent then stepped back, his glassy eyes not noting the second ruined signaler, the one from his holster, in the pit before him.

Haltingly, Kent turned away, and moved without direction, his mouth speaking nonsense. He wandered he knew not where and knew not how far, nor even that he was wandering.

Slowly, Kent's mind returned to him. When at last it was his own, he tried to work out where he was, but his memory had a blank. He had been peering into the window of a skyscraper, and saw no one at the reception desk. The next thing he remembered, he was here, in a totally different part of the city. From his short-term memory loss, he deduced he had a concussion. He checked his watch, and was surprised to see that only twenty minutes had elapsed since he had looked in that skyscraper. He had little medical knowledge, but he thought it would've taken longer to regain the full use of his mind after a concussion.

There were far-off noises, and Kent wasn't really sure what they were. He didn't want to learn about them. Kent reached for his pocket signaler, but it was gone. He reached for the one in his holster, and felt only a strange hole in his shirt and the scraped and wounded skin on his side. The signaler and much of the holster was gone. He suddenly had a vivid, undubitable memory of one signaler, sticking halfway out of the rubble but clearly smashed beyond use or repair. Where was the other signaler? Where had the one in the rubble been? Kent could not recall what route had taken him to this place. He felt horrified as he confirmed that not even the schematics were left to him.

He moved quickly, to make some effort to trace his forgotten steps. Kent raced to the next intersection, hoping against his sober judgement that he was going the right way. He stopped before he got there. Until his memories returned, he would have no idea where the signaler was. Even if they returned, the other signaler was in all probability just as ruined as the buried one. He also had to face the possibility that his memory might never return. At least he could remember everything else, and his brain seemed otherwise unharmed.

There was a staccato noise, and a stentorian crash as though something huge and heavy had fallen to the ground. The noise seemed disturbingly close, but a ringing in his ears that diluted sound prevented him from determining its direction. He was among the relatively few and very fortunate people who had never heard a shot fired in anger. Nevertheless, Kent correctly determined that what he had heard was a report of gunfire. It sounded like a titanic machine gun. The human mind's amazing speed informed him within seconds that there was a war occurring, which explained why two cities would both be emptied one week after the other. Clearly armies were moving about: the week before they had been battling in that city, and now they were here. The far-off and nearby noises must be those of battle. Whatever had knocked him out had probably been a part of the first volley gone off-target.

For the moment, he needed to find some sort of shelter and wait out the battle. He would begin the search after the battle whether or not his memories returned.

Kent reached the intersection he had headed for, now looking for shelter. What he saw instead was a massive white humanoid robot, as tall as a large building, slumped on the ground.

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