Albert and Albert Dundee was beside himself, in more ways than usual. He had been a manager at Reality Systems for thirty years, sixty if you added him together, and now all of that effort would be down the drain. There would be an Audit, with a capital 'A' and probes and tentacles... Albert lowered his head down onto his arm and tried to remain calm as Albert went to make some coffee - it was going to be a long night. Above him the monitors slowly filled with red as errors grew exponentially. This set of Earths had always been a mess, a tangled heap of overlapping realities, but he had kept it stable. Now the Gordian knot was growing, warping and branching and wrapping back in on itself.
There were universes, he knew, where everything was linear and realities never branched. There were others where someone had gotten things under control and locked the place down, trimming the splits and frays as they appeared and monitoring time travelers closely - or eliminating them. But this... even when he had been hired it was a mess, with cause and effect nearly destroyed and people ending up in an alternate reality and three hundred years in the future when all they wanted was to walk to the corner grocery store. He had painstakingly merged and re-written the different paths until it was... well, still a wreck but a massively improved one. Certainly it was now far less likely that anyone would end up being their own grandparent, or be buried in a freak storm of fishsticks. All things considered, this was a massive and wonderful achievement.
In an instant it had all been undone. It was all his fault - he had fought with himself, about something stupid, and he had knocked him into the control panel and disengaged the anchors. Without active stabilization things had instantly started to go haywire, and when the Powers That Be looked into it they would find that Albert had allowed his Earth to be stacked thirty-six realities deep rather than the more acceptable ten that he had reported. Albert lifted his head, gingerly feeling at the pattern pressed into his forehead by the sleeve of his ever-present tweed jacket. It made him think of something... a pattern, an impression... Of course! Albert chose that moment to come back with the coffee, and saw himself standing with an arm raised triumphantly in the air.
"Have we thought of something good," he asked, "or are we having a stress-induced seizure?" His abnormally deep voice echoed through the office, and he shushed himself.
"We have. Quick, pull the plug. The big one." Hesitating for only a moment, Albert did as he had asked him and grabbed the massive power cord labeled 'EARTH - DO NOT TOUCH!!" which had always annoyed him because of the extraneous exclamation point - though if there was anyone who had lost the right to complain about there being one too many of something it was Albert, so he remained silent.
With a yank, the plug popped free of the wall and the monitors went dark. Earth was on its own. Quickly, sweating through his tweed, he brought the anchors back online at the coordinates they should have occupied if everything hadn't gone to pieces. Switching full power to the inactive grid, he signaled to himself and the plug was shoved back in. The monitors came up again, flickered... and showed something bizarre. The reality map of Earth should have looked like a plate of four-dimensional spaghetti, timelines spiraling off in all directions. Instead it looked as it had earlier in the day, like a badly-wound ball of yarn.
"It's back to normal!" he shouted.
"No," he corrected, "Our grid is. The Earth itself is... quarantined."
"Ah," he said as he realized what he had done, "The worlds and that still had anchors snapped into the familiar pattern. But then... where did the others go? Those timelines must still be somewhere. Let me see that."
Albert shoved him aside and started typing, mumbling to himself as he went.
"Any timelines or realities spawned since the... incident... have been shunted into another plane... it looks like as the anchors are locking in the excess proto-universes are shriveling and dying off instead of continuing or being reabsorbed. That means..."
"It means we've destroyed... fourteen worlds. Committed genocide-scale mass murder."
They looked at themselves and nodded. Nobody could ever know.
"Two anchors are experiencing resonance. A soda machine in Japan, and a sculpture in the Eastern United States region... okay... the soda machine is online. Minor issue, only some spare change missing. The sculpture... oh... the proto-universe dangling off there isn't dying, something is climbing up it."
Albert knew there was an agent near the anchor, one from another dimension who wouldn't be adversely affected by any resonance waves. But if he called her... she might report the incident. If he just fixed it himself...
"Full power. Ignore the resonance." The monitors suddenly went black, and then came back up showing only a single blinking red line of text.
"Mass is off. We may have some duplicates of someone."
That was no problem. It could be fixed easily enough, shunt the extras into some other plane where they wouldn't interfere. "And... I can't locate the thing that was headed for that anchor."
There was a pause, during which both Alberts thought about the idea of plausible deniability. "Which one was it?" he finally asked, and after a moment he answered. "Looks like Nal-Shalberon A'ktah, the Shambling Horror From Beyond the Void."
There was another long pause, and then Albert hit a button and deleted the log file.
"I'm sure it's nothing."