Oscar Zero opened the door and stepped left, evading the imminent arrival of tomorrow by seven sixths of a split second.
But unbeknownst to the man in the metallic mac, surveillance squares circling in the nearest system had triangulated his position and were tracking his trajectory to the point where time had first accelerated.
High above the infinite sands before him, the sun inverted sending shadows into the stratosphere. Oscar, a tiny silhouette against the silver, set off into the narrow distance, his path and purpose clear for the first quantum this century.
Of course, his confidence was futile. His fate had already been determined a long time ago in his many alternate futures. He knew he’d been scheduled and stamped by the cosmos – no escaping that – but still he gripped this certainty as a reassuring guide rope, even as it towed him inexorably into oblivion.
As he passed the gleaming conical monolith that signalled the first constellation on his route, Oscar glanced at his watch, an old habit harboured from a hundred millennia ago. The hands spun at the speed of sound as they had since the singularity, but still he took solace in their silent revolution. As long as the hands were in motion, he was alive.
He forced himself to remember. Each step he took in this place, was a lifetime in the old. He had to stay focused. Either that or risk losing his mind. This wasn’t his timeline after all. This wasn’t his story. This was new. This was different. And there’s nothing the universe likes less than surprises.
And so, aeons now since his miraculous escape, Oscar found himself where he needed to be. Two degrees outside of the event horizon of his final moments.
He took another step, a thousand years passing in as he did so, and planted his feet on the precipice. He glanced over the edge and into the broiling quicksand that used to be his life and prepared to end what he had started.
He should be in there, he thought. In that mass of burning atoms with everything he remembered. But here he was, outside of the linear, looking in on the exterior edge of his existence.
He glanced at his watch. Still spinning. Or spinning still. He couldn’t tell. But he knew what he had to do. He unclasped the chain, and held the watch aloft, glinting in the solar eclipse that had thrown the vast space into darkness.
Oscar closed his eyes, pulled back his arm, swung it forward, but instead of releasing the object into the void, he froze. His body suddenly suspended in the final possible moment before the watch could leave his finger tip.
The squares appeared tiny at first, then minuscule, before disappearing completely. Oscar knew it was all over but still he performed the maddening calculations that might save him.
Before he could reach an illogical conclusion he felt the first wave of squares enter his consciousness. He concentrated, trying to sense their movement and felt them as they crawled his synapses. Oscar dared to hope. Had he changed? Could they no longer detect him? Was he no longer the one they required?
And then the picture began clear. The watch, suspended at the tip of Zero’s finger, had not stopped. It was spinning. But not in the direction he expected. And on the other edge of the vortex opposite him, Oscar could see himself, mirrored in his final pose.
He maintained eye contact and observed in his frozen state, as the other Oscar animated into being. The watch flew back into the figure’s clenched hand, his arm fell back to his side, and the squares left his body in a swarm back down into the whirlpool.
Still a statue on the edge of his time, Oscar stared in helpless elation as his journey came to and end and started again on a new tangent. He hadn’t accounted for this. How could he have? But now it all made so much sense.
The man in the metallic mac on the other side of the mirror, placed the watch in his pocket. He waved, across the plane of his entire reality, and turned, walking away into the infinite sands that stretched far up into the silver skies above.
Oscar Zero smiled as he evaporated. And then there was nothing.