Ryan’s heart was pounding, and he slowly turned around. To compare the man behind him to a gorilla would be an insult to the majestic apes. He was huge, hulking really. His brow jutted over his eyes, casting them in a deep shadow. You couldn’t compare tree trunks to his arms, because tree trunks weren’t pale and bulging with muscle, and didn’t hold the largest handgun Ryan had ever seen.
“Ohgodpleasedon’tkillme.” Ryan’s hands instinctively shot up in a ‘reach for the sky’ gesture.
The brute grunted at that. People passing the alley turned and gave odd looks at the exclamation. An unsettling realization built up in the small part of Ryan’s brain not focused entirely on the gun.
“They can’t see you, can they? I’m…I’m holding my hands up in an empty alley, as far as they can see.”
“So…you’ll pass through matter too? If you shoot me, the bullet…it’ll just pass right through me?”
Again, a grunt of “Yup.” For a moment, Ryan felt a wave of relief, they noticed the gleam in the man’s eye. He gulped.
“It’ll just pass harmlessly through me?”
That gleam in the man’s eyes brightened, and Ryan began to recognize in spite of his caveman appearance, there was intelligence in those eyes. “Nope.”
“I…okay, you can have it.”
“Good lad. Most of your kind isn’t so reasonable. Just give it over here, nice and slow like, yeah?”
Ryan reached out, the hand clutching the nanoverse tightly. The brutish man took one of his hands off the gun and held it out…and some perverse urge overtook Ryan. He was going to give it over, he really was…but then the last thirty years were for nothing. He’d probably be shot anyway, but even if he wasn’t, he’d never know what it was all about.
So he took a gamble, and while the man was still reaching out, Ryan darted forward, directly at the brute, expecting any moment for that horrible gun to go off, or to smack into a small mountain of flesh and go tumbling to the ground.
Instead, as he hoped, he passed right through him. In the alley, the man’s massive size worked against him – it took him a couple moments to turn around. He roared in anger and fired the gun.
Ryan felt something tug at his collar, leaving a perfect hole inches from his neck. He ducked right after the tug, an entirely instinctive reaction that saved his life as another bullet parted his hair.
Adrenaline kicked in, and Ryan ran into the crowd with a speed he didn’t know he had. People were starting to scream and scatter as well – even if nothing else about the brute could be seen or heard by anyone else, the sound of gunshots was very real.
For a terrible moment, Ryan wondered if he was about to get some innocent people killed. He’d be relieved to learn later the first bullet had buried itself in a street light, and the second had, in fact, blew the head off of a mannequin in a store window across the street. At the moment, however, he was only relieved that his attacker wasn’t interested in killing anyone but Ryan, and he was able to escape into the crowd.
Several blocks later, Ryan was in another alley, panting with fear. The panic of earlier was starting to fade, and questions were flooding back.
He pushed them down. He was very strongly getting the feeling that, no matter what happened, he’d never get all the answers. And right now, only one mattered – had he been followed?
It didn’t seem that way. Either the brute couldn’t move all that fast, or hadn’t known which way he had gone. Glancing around again, and taking a deep breath, Ryan pulled out the nanoverse and held it up to his face again.
It was hypnotic to watch. An entire galaxy spinning in a black sphere the size of a golf ball. It was much easier to see clearly than earlier.
It’s the size of a golfball.
That realization washed over Ryan like a bucket of cold water. It had been a marble when he’d found it, right? He kicked his jumbled brain into going over the last few minutes. Yes, when he’d been talking to the man in the suit, it had been a marble.
Another realization followed that first one, this one slower but more inexorable. The man in the suit was gone. No one was watching Ryan. For the first time in his life, he had privacy.
And he’d never wanted it less. He slipped the nanoverse into his pocket and got back onto the street, joining in the crowd, drawing strength in numbers.
On a whim, he pulled out his phone and did a search for “nanoverse.” The first couple results were some toy line, then some links to something from DC comics, then a company working on nanomachines. It wasn’t until the second page of Google results when he found something that looked relevant.
What Is the Nanoverse?
He tapped the link. The page it brought up did not inspire confidence. It looked like something that had been slapped together by a high schooler back in the early 2000’s, and the last update to the page had been in 2006. He was about to hit the back arrow and check other pages when a photo loaded.
It was Egyptian, or something like it. The photo contained hieroglyphs, at least, and the art style had that ‘face in profile but with eye straight ahead’ look that Ryan associated with Egyptian artwork. The picture was what was interesting – a man, holding up a tiny black dot.
Barely noticing the crowd, Ryan began reading.
The article was long, rambling, and poorly edited. It referred to Watchers, Finders, Keepers – even alleging the saying “finders keepers” had originated here, and connected it to the Hollow Earth, Illuminati, chemtrails, Atlantis, the Bermuda triangle…it was a mess of random crap, but Ryan read it all, hoping for a nugget of truth in there. It took almost a half hour to read, and Ryan was all but done with the page.
And then he got to the last line.
“Of course, the only way someone could stand to read all that rubbish was if they actually found something. Click HERE to contact the website’s admin.”
He pressed it, out of desperation more than anything else. Instead of bringing up an email form like he expected, it gave him a phone number. More modern than the page seemed.
He hit call.
After a few rings, a voice on the other end answered. A woman’s voice, sounding slightly out of breath. “‘ello?” That one word made it clear the speaker was British.
“Uh…hi. I’m calling about…the nanoverse?”
There was a pause on the other end. “Oh hell. Now? Of all times, now?”
The sheer irritation in her voice shocked Ryan. “Uh…sorry.”
“I was just getting settled back into this mudball. Fine, fine, it’s not your fault love.”
Another pause, then a swear. “You’re a local aren’t you?”
Ryan cut off yet another “Uh” from his response. “I think so?”
“Got the number off that bloody website, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” This one, at least, he could say with confidence.
“Scared half out of your mind and on the run from forces you can’t understand?”
“Oh God, yes. Can you make sense of all of this for me?”
“Oh, oh dear. I can maybe help some.” A pause during which he heard some tapping sounds, someone with long nails typing at a touchscreen. “Have you gazed into it yet, love? Rushing sensation, field of stars filled your entire vision?”
“Yeah!” Relief. Finally, someone who could help him.
“Great, great.” Her tone didn’t sound like she thought it was all that great, but Ryan was still just ecstatic to have someone who was talking to him. “Turn left into the store, there’s a dear.”
He did. The door he stepped into was some upscale clothing boutique.
The room he stepped into, however, looked like a planetarium on steroids, a platform that was surrounded by open, starry sky. A young woman, hair back in a no-nonsense bun, stood behind a bank of keyboards.
She glanced up at him through a few wisps of stray hairs that hung in front of her forehead, frowning. “Do me a favor, love? When the view overwhelms you and you need to puke, stick your head out the door, yeah?”
Reeling from the shock of what he was seeing, Ryan did exactly that.