“Wait, come back!”
A few people on the street turned to look, but Ryan was already running.
His entire life the man in the suit had been there. He’d been watching, writing, and watching. Ryan’s parents had called him an imaginary friend – the first indication he’d even gotten that the man in the suit wasn’t visible for everyone.
Then today, Ryan had walked into a store. The store hadn’t been anything special, the kind of tourist trap that littered many major cities. They weren’t particularly common in Saint Louis, since pretty much nowhere in the state of Missouri was a major haven for tourists. However, downtown they were near the Arch, one of the very few touristy attractions in the city, so these kind of stores actually were able to survive down here.
Ryan had been thumbing through a bin of knicknacks. Keychains, marbles with a model of the Arch in them, that sort of thing. His sister, Isabel, had texted him from California and complained about being homesick, so he’d decided to pick up something from here and send it to her. Of course, the man in the suit had followed him.
The man in the suit had always followed him, never speaking, always writing.
He’d just about settled on something Isabel would like, a tacky key ring that said “Show Me State” on it, and with his hand still in the bin the man had spoken, the first words he’d ever said in Ryan’s life. “Thank you.” Then he’d turned, and he’d walked through the wall.
Hearing the man speak for the first time had been shocking, and for half an instant Ryan had stood there. But panic settled in during that instant, the realization that he might never realize what it had all be about. So Ryan chased. The man in the suit wasn’t running away, just calmly walking through the crowd. Literally through them – people passed through him without noticing he was there. Ryan, however, was a fully corporeal human so found himself shoving up against the crowd.
The man in the suit continued, ignoring Ryan with the same dedication he had used observing for the last thirty years.
Thirty years of hell. He hadn’t been able to keep a girlfriend – as soon as things got intimate, the fact that this creeper was standing there watching him caused Ryan to just stop, which always led to fights. People thought he was weird because he was always glancing at something none of them could see – cute when a cat did it, creepy when an adult did. Sleeping, at times, under that watchful gaze, was a nightmare.
Ryan would be damned if the bastard was going to walk off after all of that without an explanation.
The man turned into an alley, and Ryan was grateful to duck out of the crowd, pushing past a pair of young women who shouted obscenities at him. Thankfully, the man in the suit had always preferred to avoid walking through matter when he could, and this held true now.
“Stop! Just…stop! Please!”
The man…hesitated. He didn’t turn around to look at Ryan, didn’t speak, but he stopped walking, staring ahead at the brick wall.
“So you can hear me! Please, what’s going on? Who are you? Why…why are you leaving?” It shocked Ryan how pained his voice sounds on that last question. The man watching his entire life, it had been hell, but the idea of him no longer being there was every bit as bad. There had been times when the man in the suit’s presence had been a comfort. Ryan had never truly been alone, and although he often wished he’d been able to experience it, the idea was unnaturally frightening.
“You weren’t supposed to see.” The man’s voice was hoarse, same as the earlier thank you. Like he hadn’t spoken in thirty years – which, to be fair, was true. But underneath the rough tone was a…a sadness, something like regret.
“Well…I did. I’ve always seen you!”
“Yeah. That caused a lot of confusion, to be honest.” Finally, the man turned around to face Ryan, and for the first time that Ryan could remember actually met Ryan’s eyes.
“Confusion with who?”
“Home office.” He sighed, and rubbed his temples. “I shouldn’t be talking to you. I can’t imagine how hard this has been.” He paused and saw the fury in Ryan’s face, and sighed again. “Or…actually, I guess I can, I’ve seen it.”
“So…what’s going on?”
“You’re going to have to be okay with not getting answers to most of these questions, Ryan. I’ll give you this – one question, one answer. That’s all you get.”
“Only one question.” Ryan made sure to keep his voice flat, so that last word couldn’t be construed as a question, and to prevent himself from shrieking at the man. All this time, all this hell, and he only got one question? The first one that came to mind was asking him who the hell he thought he was.
“Yes. More than most people get.”
There was a finality to that tone, something that told Ryan it would be pointless to argue or vent his frustrations. So instead, question after question began to race through Ryan’s mind. But he needed to ask the right question, if he was only going to get one. After a minute, maybe two of standing there frowning in furious thought at the man, it occurred to him. The question that would get him the most answers, and really, at this point, the only one that mattered.
“Why are you leaving?”
The man in the suit smiled. “Good question. And because my prediction was right – you were the one to find it. Even with me present your whole life, it was still you.” He saw Ryan’s face, saw the confusion on it, and actually laughed. “Sorry for being vague, it’s been awhile since I spoke to anyone. You’re one of over a thousand people who match some of our criteria as likely candidates. And…well, check your left pocket.”
With trembling hand, Ryan reached down and stuck his hand in his pocket. His heart started pounding when he felt something in there. A couple somethings. He hadn’t bought anything at the store…what was in his pocket? He fished it out.
One of them was the keychain, apparently accidentally stolen from the store. Gotta go back and pay for that. It was a black marble, one he vaguely remembered picking up to get to the “Show Me State” keychain.. He must have stuck them both in there when he ran. It didn’t take any immense deduction to realize the keychain probably wasn’t what the man in the suit meant.
“A marble?” It was a stupid thing to ask, and the man in the suit chuckled.
So he did. What he thought were flecks of glitter in there were…they looked like stars. The swirl pattern in the center? Looked like a galaxy. It swelled to fill his entire vision as he did, giving him an immense feeling of vertigo, like he was falling into the star field.
The man’s voice seemed to come from far away. “You found a nanoverse. The last one of this Era, left behind by the Creator. We were watching to see who found it, figure out who would be next. And now that it’s been found…now that you’re the one…my work is done.”
The man in the suit turned to walk away. Ryan couldn’t help himself. “What happens now?”
“I told you, only one question. But I’ll give you some free advice.”
Ryan took a deep breath to steady himself. “Okay.”
“Don’t put it in a drawer and forget about it. You’ve got a pretty amazing thing there, Ryan. And in spite of the fact that I kind of accidentally turned you into a nervous wreck…I think you’re going to do some pretty amazing things with it.” The man in the suit smiled. “I’ve watched you your entire life, Ryan. I have faith you’ll be able to pull this off.”
Before Ryan could ask more question the man in the suit would not answer – what he was supposed to do with it, what that meant, what the hell was going on – he turned and walked through a wall. This time, there was no way around, no way to follow. He was gone, and Ryan was, for the first time in his life, truly alone.
His mind was spinning. None of this made any sense, and Ryan felt like he needed a million years to process what was going on. Instead, he barely got seven seconds before a gun cocked behind him.
“Put down the nanoverse, and you might get out of this alive.”