Original Content A Bomb in the Building

#1
"Stockton! There you are, thank goodness. There's a bomb, and we have a problem!"

"Come again old friend? Catch your breath if you need to."

"There is a bomb in the building! I was just notified recently."

"A bomb you say? What is that?"

"I had to research it myself. Apparently it is some sort of incendiary device. I could have spent weeks studying enough just to cover all the basics, but I cut that short when I began to realize what it could do to us."

"Ahh.. So, it catches on fire? That seems little more than an inconvenience."

"It's much worse than that, I'm afraid. These bombs can entirely combust in a matter of microseconds. They can put off a tremendous amount of heat and energy. And don't get me started on this shrapnel stuff they like to talk about."

"How big is it supposed to be? Keep going Peterson, your work is commendable already."

"Well, they range in size considerably. Back when they were more popular, it was not terribly uncommon to see bombs comparable in size to a small moon. If you go back much farther though, they were usually no larger than a small child."

"A ghastly comparison, wouldn't you agree?"

"Oh yes. Absolutely terrible."

"But what does it do exactly?"

"You may not like this old friend. The purpose of a bomb is to explode. And what more, is they would most commonly explode in the near vicinity of other people."

"Egads! I feel my revulsion at their comparison to a child's size may have been grossly understated."

"Hear hear, friend. Our future history appears littered with many such terrifying implications."

"Back to the matter at hand Peterson. Is this bomb going to explode.. here?"

"Yes! Sometime within the next five centuries!"

"Oh hell. We'll never find it in time!"

"We could summon help."

"While I admire your quick thinking, I must disagree. It would take more people here than there are atoms in a small star to have any hope of finding it quickly. Could you imagine the lines at the cafeteria?"

"Well, we certainly have that many at our disposal."

“Yes, but I dare say that very few of them would be happy with us for sending them on a wild goose chase. Not only that, but if word gets out about this bomb, it could demolish our client's trust! And we represent the 23-dimension gold standard! Can you just imagine people switching in droves to that 11-dimension spacetime? Our currency is at stake here! My god, only five centuries."

"What if we could find a professional team? An army of people with experience in this archaic matter."

"Do you know of one offhand? It usually takes much longer than five centuries to generate a proper civilization with the elements that we are looking for."

"It would behoove us to find one.. unless you want to start walking around."

Stockton sputtered, "Ach! It took me fifteen years just to walk to the Gamma Lepus embassy hall on my last vacation!"

"Don't be daft, you know what I mean!"

"We're doomed!"

"That is a possibility. However, while studying the history and future of bombs, I came across a business that markets itself towards their removal."

"Some help that will be! Is there a listing for businesses that find bombs in the first place?"

"Ah yes, it was printed on the brochure!"

"Well let me see it. Ahh. Okay. Mmm. Looks reasonable. Blast! I got their voicemail. Ahem, ah, hello, this is George Stockton, senior director of the central embassy in the 23rd Dimension Spacetime Owners Association. We have an issue that requires immediate remedy concerning a bomb in an unspecified location of our building here. Um.. yes. And we've heard that you specialize in bomb removal. Anyways, please call us back at your earliest convenience if you wish to make arrangements for this, uh, job. Thank you."

"Fool! You forgot to give him a callback number!"

Stockton's eyes widened and his mouth sputtered as he bellowed a string of profanity that would not be invented for another four point three billion years.

"Damn it all. I’ll just call back later," he sighed.

"That won't be necessary," came a voice from behind them. Peterson and Stockton whirled to face the newcomer. "Simon Hadley, at your service."

"I say, that was expedient of you. I take it you received my message?"

"Yes. I tend to check my answering machine about three minutes before the end of the universe. I would have come later, but I had to arrive nearly a month ago just to find your office. Please remember to leave a return number in the future."

Stockton blanched.

"Well, we appreciate your quick nature," Peterson continued. "How soon can your team be ready to begin the search for this bomb?"

"I am ready at this very moment. However, there is no team with me."

"But.. but.. we need vast numbers of people to search this place! Thoroughly, I might add!"

Hadley looked disappointed, but spoke, "Pardon my misunderstanding. I was under the impression that there was only one bomb."

The veins in Stockton's forehead seemed to break loose of their moorings.

"Perhaps you can give me some information before I begin. How were you notified of this bomb threat?"

"Well," Peterson cleared his throat, "I found a note in the mail room. It spoke of nothing specific, but it seemed to convey a rather threatening tone."

"Wait, you have a mail room?" Hadley interjected.

"Y-Yes. It's how we receive correspondence from our valued spacetime shareholders." His eyes twitched nervously at its mention.

"By chance, was it the room with the giant conveyor belt that carried stacks of paper that nearly reached the ceiling?"

"Um. Well, yes. We do use an automated conveyance system to address the need of handling our high volume of correspondence.."

"Would this be the same conveyor belt that is dumping these mountains of.. correspondence.. into the mouth of a giant furnace?"

"Furnace? Ah, ha. Ha. Heavens no, we don't dump our mail straight into a furnace." Peterson's thin veneer of mirthful relief scarcely concealed the roiling terror beneath.

"Incinerator?"

"Eep, no, not an incinerator! No sir."

"A portal into a gravitational well feeding the white-hot, X-ray emitting accretion disc surrounding a galactic black hole?"

By this time, Stockton's wide-eyed face had sunk to the point where it was attempting to merge with the atoms composing his desk. Peterson attempted to answer, but all that squeaked out was a high-pitched "Yes."

"I.. see," Hadley observed.

"Well what would you expect us to do!" blurted Stockton. "You've seen how much gets delivered here. It's not so much a system of correspondence. More like an artificial landmass migration!" He wheezed. His brain began to ponder whether his analogy really made sense when Peterson chimed in.

"It's just the two of us here, really. We do our best to maintain relations with our actual clients. But somewhere along the line, we began to receive an absolute deluge of letters from various sentient life forms.."

"Ah, sentient life forms, another fine feature of 23-dimension spacetime," Stockton said with a smile. The sizable portion of his brain permanently stuck on 'autopilot' could never resist making a sale.

"..And most of these letters seem to be addressed to some fellow by the name of 'God'."

"Who doesn't work here, mind you. We've checked the payroll several times," Stockton's finger wagged with cosmic authority.

"Just piles and piles of the most inane bleating and blathering. We tried writing back in place of this 'God' fellow, and even intervened to fix a few things here and there. But after all our hard work, it just seemed they could rely on us for a handout, and then there was no stopping it!" Peterson exclaimed with exasperation. Stockton harrumphed in agreement, his expression not far removed from that of a walrus.

Hadley stroked his chin, more or less oblivious to the indignant stream of noise. Abruptly, he asked, "Would you know where... or wait. How large would it.. no, never mind."

"What?" Peterson and Stockton said in unison.

"Sorry, just thinking about something."

"About what, if we may ask?"

"The bomb."

"Oh.. right, right," they agreed.

Nearly a minute passed as they eyed Hadley with nervous anticipation. Suddenly his index finger stabbed upwards, as he strode quickly along a path mimicking a rubber ball trapped between two closely-spaced walls.

"This bomb, were it to be any credible threat, would possibly be of a small size and delivered discreetly to a location where it could perform specific damage. A small bomb, even one that relied on simple chemical combustion, would be sufficient to demolish this office along with its occupants."

Stockton gulped.

"However, there is no such bomb in the immediate vicinity. The prospect that it was misplaced smacks of amateurism, and therefore can be ruled out. Someone intelligent enough to build a portal into 23rd dimension spacetime should possess enough competency to deliver a threat that lived up to the letter of their message."

He paused for a moment, before trailing off. "Unless it were well hidden. Perhaps in a desk drawer, or under a chair..."

At this point, one might expect Stockton to leap forth from behind his desk, bolt over the wastebasket, and dive towards the door with every ounce of force his flabby legs could conjure. He did not. He was simply too paralyzed from fear to move. His eyes sank down, followed by his lower lip, as he began to contemplate what horror may be ticking away just inches from his nether regions. Peterson sprang to his rescue, hurling the chair (and Stockton) away from the desk, and proceeded to open every drawer in exactly the opposite way one might slam them closed.

"Is it safe? Is it safe!" shouted Stockton as he rolled to an ungraceful stop, dumping himself from his chair and barricading his ponderous mass behind the seat cushion.

"Yes!" shouted Peterson with relief. "At least I think so. I don't see anything in here that looks like a bomb. Mr. Hadley, could you take a look at.. Mr. Hadley? Mr. Hadley!"

Mr. Hadley was in a state of distress. His eyes bulged, their fierce unfocused stare on the cusp of channeling a torrent of raw hatred into a formidably tangible manifestation. The same raw hatred that, were it to escape the rigor mortis of his lips, would erupt forth in a deafening crescendo of thunder, bellowing a wordless unholy curse that would rend asunder the many souls of all life in all universes.

However, he simply appeared to be choking. On air.

"Mr. Hadley.." Peterson began before being rudely interrupted.

"NEVER!"

"DO!"

"THAT!"

"AGAIN!"

"I.. I don't think the bomb was in here," Peterson offered helpfully.

"Of course it's not!" Hadley snarled. "Never mind booby traps or motion-sensitive triggers, you would have just manhandled it hard enough to make a lump of Play-Dough spontaneously detonate!"

Hadley stopped to collect himself, along with his choice of analogies.

Stockton carefully rose to his feet, peering around the office for any other hidden spaces, as if he were on an easter egg hunt where bricks of C-4 had been used in place of pastel colored eggs.

Hadley collapsed with a thump into the nearest available chair, not bothering first to check for hidden explosive devices. Secretly though, he hoped that there was.

"Well, I think we can.." Peterson started.

"..Rule out that the bomb is not here, in our immediate vicinity," Hadley finished. He paused to breathe several times before shooting back to his feet. "Now, given that the bomb is not in here, and it's not propped up outside of your office or jammed into the mailbox next to your door, it must be somewhere else. Let’s step outside, shall we?"

They followed Hadley out of the office.

"Now look here. It seems that the 'building' you mentioned in your message is fairly large. Much larger than I expected. In fact, it appears that we are standing on a rather thick slab of marble, in the shape of a disc, with a diameter slightly less than the orbit of a tiny planetoid, its tiny moon, and a cloud of comets some bit further out. This is like a courtyard but it's so large that you have a class G star in place of a fountain at the center!"

"Well, yes," agreed Peterson.

"It's very nice," Stockton chimed in.

"We are also rotating, but you've simply bent the force of the centripetal acceleration by ninety degrees through another dimension to give the impression of gravity. Very nice trick, I might say. Furthermore," he pointed upwards, "it appears that you've folded space along the surface of the plane here, so that this ornate marble ceiling I see above us is actually the bottom half of the disc we're standing on. Again, well played."

The two regarded Hadley with rapt attention, though Stockton appeared to have a brief moment of 'Aha! So that's how they did it!'.

"Furthermore!" Hadley interrupted any stray thoughts with a sudden outburst, "Due to the aforementioned geometry of us standing on an inside-out disc, which I might add appears as a colorless, massless, ring of exactly not-quite-zero volume when approached from the outside... It is my intention to write my dissertation in the exciting new field of asshole-physics on how I actually landed my ship here!"

Hadley gave an exasperated sigh as he turned slowly, tapping his foot and begrudgingly admiring the grandiose vista. While very impressive, it implied a very unsettling datum into his equation. A problem which he mentally wrestled with for some time before he finally spoke.

"I do not see a bomb, gentlemen."

"Wha..?"

"Before you speak any further, I will concede that there could still be a bomb out there. But given the upper yield limits of all varieties of bombs, I cannot physically see one of the size or proximity to affect us. Even if a fairly sizable thermonuclear device detonated, it would be virtually undetectable. You might just happen to wander upon a large blackened spot somewhere on the far side of the disc. But by that time, you will have probably forgotten our entire conversation."

"But there may be larger bombs. And I assure you Mr. Uh.."

"Hadley."

"..Mr. Hadley, that we will not easily forget this impending threat to our shareholder interests!"

"Yes.. Of course," Hadley purred. "There could always be a 'Quark Express' matter conversion bomb, a 'Whirling Dervish' micro-singularity pair, 'Star in a Jar' collapsed subspace fold, a 'Damn-it-all' strangelet, which is pretty similar to the 'Quark Express' but works a bit differently. Either way.. you know."

Hadley made a raspberry noise with his lips as he clapped his hands together, which, as most bomb experts would agree, is a fairly apt description of what happens when high-energy physicists win defense contracts.

Peterson looked as if he were going to be sick. "Why, Mr. Hadley, those sound absolutely.."

"Terrible?" Hadley asked hopefully.

"It will give me nightmares until the day I die," Peterson managed as solemnly as possible.

"Oh, I agree. Dreadful isn't it?" The slight glimmer of a genuine smile crept across Hadley's face.

"It seems that you harbor an almost unhealthy obsession with these devices, Mr. Hadley," Stockton observed.

"Obsession is for the rank and file amateur, sir. And you would be mistaken to conclude that I have made the study and development of bombs to be my life. Rather, I should say with no pretense of humility, that quite a lot of bombs owe their lives to me."

"The bombs have lives, Mr. Hadley?"

"Only when they are falling, Mr. Peterson."

Peterson sighed. "Well, if you cannot detect a bomb anywhere nearby, then what could you tell us about this?" He thrust the letter into the void between him and Hadley.

He eyed it casually as he took it.

"A letter delivered with a bomb is typically associated with a ransom," he elucidated as he waved the rolled paper around like a long stick in front of a chalkboard. "Equally likely is an attempt at due diligence on the part of a conscientious bomber. Someone who wants to make a bang without all the flying body parts.

"In most cases though," Hadley sighed as he unfurled the letter, "it's just a hoax or an idle threat."

At this point, Hadley began to shake. His mouth fell open and his eyes clawed their way out of their sockets for a better look. Had he managed to stay that way for but a few seconds longer, one could imagine the possibility that he had managed to read the entire letter and was suitably distressed by its content.

After reading the first line, he simply threw up.

"Oh, I say! Mr. Hadley, are you all right?" Peterson exclaimed. "Tell me now. Surely your vast knowledge and unmatched expertise in this area will outclass this.. this.. bungling amateur," he gestured towards the bile-spattered letter.

Hadley coughed several times, expelling ropey strands of vomit while standing in the harsh bright blackness between the opposite sides of a marble disc spinning in the empty gulf of a young universe. He fell to his hands and knees.

"It's not the letter. It's who wrote it," Hadley spat. He held it aloft, staring desperately at the two men. "This is my handwriting, and this is my letter!"

Some time ago, between 5 hours and 73 billion years - depending on whose clock you were using, and which dimension you were standing in at the time - the fundamental forces of the universe pared off from a violently expanding bubble of spacetime. No more than a few millionths of a second later, the first protons appeared. Followed closely by the first neutrons, and soon thereafter, the first of many many atoms which would eventually compose the bulk of the visible universe. As time went on, the first stars were born no less than four hundred million years later. Fast forward a billion years, as these first generation stars formed into the first galaxies, followed shortly thereafter by the first galactic acquisition by a gravitationally larger trading partner through a no-bid synergistic leveraging of capital assets.

Fast forward to the present, as the three men witnessed another equally monumental event. The conception of 'awkward'.

"Ahh. Hmm.. Well, I say. How exactly did this happen, Mr. Hadley?"

"Mr. Hadley?"

"Mr. Hadley?"

"Ah... Mr. Hadley?"

"Mr. Hadley!!"

"No no no, Augh! Grab him!"

"Aieee!"

"Where are you going! Please stop! Oh no.."

"Don't open that! It's the AUGHHH! CLOSE IT! CLOSE IT!"

"Now that was our incinerator you see, Mr. Hadley.. Oh blast! He's getting away!"

"He's too fast! Damn!"

"Stop, Drop, and Roll, Mr. Hadley! You.. You're still partially combusting!"

"How will we find him now?" wailed Stockton.

"Follow the smoke trail. Hurry!"

Several minutes later..

"Oh, I see him! Mr. Hadley! Er.. what the hell. We can see you hiding under that bench, Mr. Hadley!"

"He's not moving."

"At least he has stopped smoldering," Peterson added helpfully.

"Well, let's wait a minute and see how this plays out. I still see him breathing, therefore we can rule out the possibility that he borrowed a few of my cyanide pills," Stockton remarked with a renewed sense of pride in his deduction skills.

"When's the last time you used those, anyways?"

Stockton grumbled briefly, but the words "in-laws" were heard.

"Oh, right."

After a brief period of time, Mr. Hadley crawled out from under the stone bench, and rose to his feet. From his jacket, he proffered a cigarette. He stood and absentmindedly smoked it over the course of thirty seconds, stopping about halfway through the cotton bit at the end.
At this point, naturally, he started coughing like an Achaean protozoa in an oxygen rich environment.

Mr. Hadley collected himself, as well as he could without the benefit of eyebrows, and walked glumly back over to Stockton and Peterson.

"I must apologize for the reaction you just witnessed. I assure you, it was entirely instinctive, however inappropriate for this situation."

"Instinct, you say?"

"Yes! Every bomb maker worth their saltpeter knows the three fundamental tenets of their trade. One: When in doubt, run! Two: If running does not remedy the problem, then take cover. Three: If steps one and two have failed to offer any slim chance of survival, make the most of your last seconds."

"So you had a cigarette for step three?"

"Well, I usually have something else in mind, but frankly, neither of you are my type."

"Wait a minute, wait a minute! So did you just have a cigarette because you're training to be a chimney in the next life, or because of Step Three?"

Hadley thought about that for a moment. "Step Three, gentlemen."

"Are you saying that we have no slim chance for survival, Mr. Hadley?"

"That is a distinct possibility, but as part of my terms of service, I shall not succumb to panic, wailing, gnashing of teeth, or anything that would invite hopelessness.. Besides what you just saw."

"We do appreciate that."

"And, you will be happy to know that I am waiving the additional fee that I would normally charge due to the combustion of my eyebrows in the course of my contractual work."

"Ah.. well, we appreciate that too. Er.. Has that happened before?"

Hadley shrugged. "They grow back. Eventually."

Peterson changed the subject. "What has gotten you so worked up, Mr. Hadley? If this is, as you say, your own bomb, then surely you should know where it is, and how to deactivate it?"

"It is nowhere near that simple, I am afraid. You see, I delivered this letter along with my.. device, to a party who shall remain anonymous due to client confidentiality. Now that it has turned up here, I daresay that I am almost certain of two things. The bomb is here, and we have no way of finding it!"

"You are certain of that?"

"Very much so. That, and my client was an idiot."

"Why can't we find it?" asked Stockton.

"And why are you so afraid of it?" Peterson inquired.

"I can answer both of those at once. First off, this bomb is not the sort that you may have read about. It exists in several dimensions other than the one we happen to inhabit. Only a tiny bit of it can be handled in this dimension, but that part is rolled up into a sub-dimension too small to observe through any normal means. The only way to keep track of it is through quantum waveform entrapment, which only works so long as you don't pass it off to some legion of fools claiming to be scientists. Once in their vastly incompetent hands, the cat is, as we would say, both in and out of the bag."

"So it's very tiny then? What could it possibly do?"

"Yes, were we able to observe it, we would say that it is very tiny,” Hadley gave a quick laugh. “So immeasurably tiny. Just peeking back at us.”

Peterson listened keenly, as Hadley's expression became deadly serious.

"Do not fool yourself into thinking that this bomb could go off and leave any of us around to tell about it. It.. it is immeasurably terrifying."

"Well, what could it do? Destroy the universe?" Stockton suggested.

"No. No, it wouldn't just destroy the universe. Not just one. Not when there are so many. Oh, you know the energies that are unleashed when a universe is formed, right? Imagine that sort of thing happening and not happening in reverse in every part of every universe that ever was, is, or will be! But I cannot stop there, for that would be too clean and merciful. You have heard of space as a fabric, yes? So many threads and knots, simply beyond calculation or comprehension. Now imagine an equivalent arsenal of scissors. It causes space to rip apart, and hold onto every hope that you never live to witness that. For every fracture, you get two halves of the universe ripping apart faster than light can travel, and in between there, is nothing! Absolute nothingness! And that nothingness spews into the stricken void. It crosses into real space, and becomes something else like supermagnetic strands, gamma rays that go backwards in time, visible spectrum gravity, hyper-time membranes, and all sorts of nightmare things that we haven't yet begun to catalogue! And space doesn't just tear apart once. Oh no, it branches out in some four-dimensional fractal pattern that seeks out and emulsifies the universe faster than it can expand. It's theorized that you could have time to scream, but it would all come out as X-rays."

He paused to breathe, "Gentlemen, I am not at liberty to say how it works, but it is accurate to say that when it goes off, it comes along and gives physics a swift kick in the balls. That, my friends, is not the fight you want to start because physics always wins! It's 'Oh Shit' divided by zero!"

"And you made this bomb? Just how.. how, how HOW could you feel compelled to produce something so.. evil?"

Hadley shrugged plaintively, "Well, it did win Second Place."

"Second place!" Peterson shrieked. "Who in the hell holds a contest at destroying the universe?"

"Universes."

"Um.. what kind of bomb won first?" Stockton ventured.

Hadley shuddered for a moment. "You don't want to know, and you REALLY don't want to know."

"So, where does that leave us?" Peterson sighed. "You know, after reading about these sorts of bombs, I thought I'd seen the worst things imaginable. Like that one that can travel through hyperspace and obliterate up to six different planets on a minute's notice.."

"Ah, the Negotiator Mk VII."

"And the one that causes a healthy star to spontaneously nova.."

"Treaty-Maker Mk II. No, wait.. Mk V."

"And there's a whole slew of guided missiles that can seek out dozens of individual people from orbit.."

"Sir, that would be morally reprehensible. We don't make guided missiles that seek out people. Perhaps you're thinking of the multiple independent small-area impact munition with inherent dispersal reduction capability?"

"Yes, that must be it," Peterson hissed.

"Do you sleep well at night, Mr. Hadley?" Stockton asked. "All those lives lost to your machinations. Those victims of your bombs."

"We in the industry find it more tasteful to use the term Ambulatory Hydrogen Byproducts," Hadley corrected.

"But why do you do it? What makes you want to develop these terrible weapons?"

"To prevent somebody less responsible from doing it first, of course."

The universe that begat the 23rd Dimension Spacetime Owner's Association suddenly witnessed the milestone development of 'irony'.

Hadley sighed. "I'm going to have to think about this for a bit. Any place around here I could sit down for a drink?"

"Well.. The Gamma Lepus embassy hall isn't too far from here," Stockton offered. "There's a portal to the fourth planet in there which is fairly tropical and has a rather interesting nightlife."

"That's the planet colonized by Jessica Alba clones, isn't it?" asked Hadley.

"Erm, um, yes. Very nice gal. The whole lot of em," Stockton muttered quickly.

"She was from Earth originally, I believe," said Peterson.

"Earth.." Hadley looked introspective, playing back through his vast memories. "Sounds familiar. That's a planet, right?"

Peterson winked out of existence for a moment, reappearing with a very thick binder. He opened it, and ran his finger over several pages.

"Ahh.. yes, here it is. Planet. Future client."

"Well done!" chimed Stockton, feeling a twinge of pride in their portfolio of Accounts Payable futures.

"Shall we then?"

A clap of Peterson's hands later, the three of them were standing on the marble steps of the Gamma Lepus B embassy hall.

"Five centuries is it then? That should give us some time to think about it, wouldn't you agree, Mr. Hadley?" Peterson remarked

"Oh yes, yes. Actually I was considering the possibility of using a second bomb, a carbon copy of the first, that could go off simultaneously, and interfere with the other one. If all went as planned, we'd hardly notice a thing."

Stockton gulped. "Um.. would we be around to notice anything afterwards?"

"Hrmm? Oh, yes. No need to worry. I have access to the simulations we ran for each of the winning entries. A few hours would give me everything I need to know."

"Simulations?"

"Well, yes. It's not like we could actually set them off and still be around afterward to collect the reward. Much more humane than blowing up random universes. Heh. That was our plan anyways."

"Hrmm.. if that was the plan, am I to believe that you did something differently?" Stockton inquired.

"Ah, no, no. Simulations. Went off without a hitch!" Hadley blurted out nervously.

"You seem to be a bit worked up over a mere simulation, Mr. Hadley."

"Nonsense! Well, yes, I'd admit that even talking about these sort of bombs can put one's self on edge. But you should know that our simulations were very accurate! Nearly 99.999% close to the real thi- SHIT!"

They peered at Mr. Hadley, very intrigued.

"Well if you must know!" Hadley drew himself up with righteous indignation. "We did run the simulations and everything without a single detonation. Awards were handed out, pictures were taken, drinks were had, etcetera, you know," he sighed. "A lot of drinks, actually."

"And then?"

"We had a party afterwards, the top three awardees. At some point we decided that another evaluation was in order, just to see if it would work out differently. Not necessarily because we wanted a rematch, er, but because.."

"..You wanted to see something blow up?" Stockton ventured.

"Er.. no? Well, I don't know. We were pretty hammered by that time. Anyways, it's not like we set them off somewhere.. populated. There were a cluster of universes in the 17th dimension that we felt were good candidates."

"The 17th dimension? I haven't heard of any developing universes there."

"Exactly," Hadley sighed.

"Oh."

There was a brief moment of silence to commemorate the untimely and senseless end of a bright promising existence.

"So, who really won?" asked Stockton, who had interpreted the aforementioned silence as his cue to speak next.

"I really don't like to talk about it. I told him not to go back and give it a prod, but he wouldn't listen! We told him it would be all right if it was a dud, he was still Number One in our books."

Hadley looked forlornly at his feet for a moment.

"What about Number Three? How'd his bomb work out?"

"Too well. That’s why there was no Number Three. I don't even know his name now! It's like he never existed. All I had to remember him by was an empty trophy and a bar tab that I had to pick up because it was paid with non-existent money!"

"Ouch," consoled Stockton.

"I've really given up making bombs since then. The new generations of bomb makers have been handy at following in my footsteps. Smart lads, you know. Really gives me a twinkle in my eye when they detonate their first plutonium implosion device. Uh, successfully, I mean. That's a tricky one for the first timers. Nowadays, I just like to watch and offer a little help."

"What I think," said Stockton, misinterpreting the situation but commandeering it anyway, "Is that we all could use a stiff drink."

"Yes," Peterson hesitantly agreed. "This has been quite the day, and in light of a solution to our impending conundrum, I'm in the mood to give a toast to something."

"To Step Three then?"

"No!"

"Ambulatory Hydrogen Byproducts?"

"Not quite."

"Getting smashed so hard we forget about the next four-hundred and ninety-nine years?"

"Sounds good to me!"

"Cheers!" they said in unison as they stepped through to the surface of the fourth planet circling Gamma Lepus B.

...

Depending on which dimension you're standing in, five centuries can go by in a flash. Much to the surprise of a certain anonymous client and their equally confidential and equally surprised infidel adversaries.

And to settle a long-standing bet, people can actually scream in X-rays.

Unfortunately, Mr. Hadley wasn't in the same spacetime dimension to witness it. He secretly would have wanted to.
 
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