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I think I read this story some time in the 90s or early 2000s. There was some type of disaster in America. The country was decimated. Almost no one was left alive. I don't recall if everyone died or if they were forced to evacuate over a period of time. But I believe most of the country was depopulated. The reason I call it a quantum calamity is that the walls between quantum realities had dissolved with increasing severity going deeper into the country.

There are two scenes that stuck out to me. The first is there were two main characters: a man and woman. They're creeping through a field and they come upon a couple having sex. I seem to recall them remarking on how stupid it was for them to be distracted having sex in a hostile territory. They creep up behind them, attack, and kill them. Only then do they notice that the people they just killed are themselves.

The next scene I remember is they make it deep into the phenomenon and encounter a man in an office. I think he's dressed in a suit. I think they remark or think how supremely uncomfortable and/or unnatural he looks because he keeps moving in strange and awkward ways apparently trying to get comfortable. He either notices them noticing his discomfort or he brings it up himself. It is revealed he's not actually human. He's some entity, probably from another quantum reality or even between quantum realities (?) who assumed human form to attempt to contact humans and end the disaster (?). It's also possible he just got trapped here. I don't remember.

I have to paraphrase what he says, because I only recall the gist of it. He said something to the effect of "As uncomfortable as I appear to be to you in this body, I can't begin to understand (?) how uncomfortable you must be in your mind." I think he was referring to them dealing with the shifting realities, which I believe was spreading, which was why they were journeying to America in the first place. I could be wrong though.

That's all I remember.

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This sounds like Finity, by John Barnes. I only have it in paper, and not to hand at the moment, but your plot elements definitely match my memories.

Additional elements that might help your recollection:

  • The protagonists are American ex-pats, but they came from two different worlds (your ‘quantum realities’) - he from the American expat community in a New Zealand where the Nazis won World War II, she from a world where Diego Garcia was the remaining American republic in a world where the Soviets won the Cold War.

  • The ultimate cause of the problem was that in many worlds, America “wrote itself out of history” by using a certain technology for VR, and placed it under the control of the “Department of the Pursuit of Happiness”.

  • The effects were (multi)world-wide because the core technology was extremely useful in many ways - but only in America was it used for VR.

There’s a review here.

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  • Yeah, that could be right - but I don't remember the sex scene as described by the asker being in Finity.
    – Andrew
    Aug 7, 2023 at 19:58
  • That's one of the reasons I like coming to this site, I'd read a couple of John Barnes books but I'd never heard of Finity until this question - the novel is now downloaded and in my TBR file
    – Danny Mc G
    Aug 7, 2023 at 23:11
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    @Andrew “I could have laughed out loud when I realized that there in the near shadows I was seeing two pairs of Levi’s, and two holsters with pistols, and that in the deeper shadow there was a couple fucking doggie-style, giggling, drunk out of their minds. ... The man was Jesús Picardin-or rather a different version of him. And the woman was me. " Aug 8, 2023 at 4:54
  • I stand corrected!
    – Andrew
    Aug 8, 2023 at 10:35
  • @John Rennie Yeah. That's it. I had ran across it Yesterday searching for the other book I posted. Only then did I realize it might be this one. I downloaded a copy from Archive, but been too busy to look through it. Thanks.
    – HyperNym
    Aug 8, 2023 at 22:17

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