I feel that some response is called for. I say: "Uh..."
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"You've been searching for me," says the man in white.
"Um," I say, wisely.
"And now you have found me. You must have a number of questions."
On this matter I feel somewhat more stable. "Yes!" I say. "Who are you?"
The man in white casts his gaze up to the sky, the strange, unearthly grey of his eyes complementing the faded blue of the void above. "That will be a long story," he says. "And to tell it, I must start at a point that will seem, at first, to be completely unrelated."
"The world- by which I mean the universe- in which you live is a marvellous and complex creation, this you know. But it is not alone. Outside the boundaries of your world lie many more, so many that it would be impossible for anyone ever to count them. Some worlds lie next to other worlds, some exist inside other worlds. A few occupy the exact same space as another world. Some are connected to each other, many more are completely cut off from their neighbours. All, however, are bound together into a structure that I will call- because, of all the words in your language, it fits best- the multiverse. The multiverse is composed of these billions of billions of worlds, each equally as strange and wondrous as your own. Some quite a bit more so. In most, the inhabitants have no idea that worlds outside theirs exist- your own world is much this way, as you may have noticed. For those few that DO know, travel between worlds is either very restricted, or altogether impossible. Only a select few individuals may move freely about the multiverse. I am one such individual. But even more, I am also a student of Tyme. You see, each world posesses it's own time. Time is a bendable, flexible, malleable element- surely you have noticed how it does not move at the same constant speed for you? To those with the skills and talents, the possibility for manipulation is limitless. I have such an ability- to move anywhere within your time, and to manipulate time around me as I so desire. Tyme, however, is another matter. Infinitely more complicated, it comprises, in it's most base form, a final and indisputable measure of the changes that come unto the multiverse. One cannot manipulate Tyme, it is beyond the skill of any adept. Rarely do any single events make it into the Tymeline, and those that do are often catastrophic, earth-shattering events that change everything they touch in some profound manner."
The man in white pauses once more.
"But just such a thing has happened. A single chain of events is occuring on the Tymeline, and the goings-on that comprise them are so dangerous, so incredibly volatile, that the integrity of the multiverse is at risk. That is why I have come here. There are a few individuals here who may be able to assist in putting an end to these manners, and I have been seeking them out. It is not easy- I may view time as it pleases me, but I view it as a whole, and it is very difficult to make out tiny details in so large a picture- but I have located those few who might be of some use. It is the application of task that has resulted in your search. Each and every sighting you discovered was an occasion where I manifest for the purpose of speaking with someone I had located. Please understand, I am not an amateur. You were exceptionally lucky to discover me, and my need for haste has made me quite sloppy at times. But you did, and I was, and now we are here, Mr. Zeigler. Any questions?"
My mind reeled. "What people did you find?"
"I found a number of people, as it happens. Most notable among them is your erstwhile employer, the man who chooses to call himself James Gideon. I did, in fact, visit him more than once during the course of my travels. He is quite a remarkable man. Another possibility, although I will admit it was not of the first order, was Harmon Blake. On consideration, however, I believe I will not be seeking further audience with him."
"I...see. And me?"
"You were- if you will forgive the unkind phrase- an afterthought. I came to be aware of you around the halfway point of your investigations, and I was, if I am to be truthful, quite flattered. You are a most unique individual, Mr. Zeigler. Your dogged determination to find the answer to a riddle, the clues of which were still mostly hidden to you, is very impressive. I elected, eventually, to make contact with you, and offer you a proposition of my own devising- an edge-of-the-seat plan, if you will. I have studied the workings of your mind, Mr. Zeigler, and I have found them to be surprisingly compatible with inter-world travel and time manipulation. I am here to offer you a chance at something only dreamed of by the inhabitants of your world, if you are willing to hear my proposition. Will you hear it?"
How could I not? "Yes," I said. "I will hear it."
"Listen then, Mr. Zeigler, and listen well: I am here to find those who might aid in matters concerning the multiverse, but Tyme is growing short. I cannot work fast enough on my own. I need the help of another with my skills. This is where your part comes in, Mr. Zeigler. I am here to offer you an apprentice-ship, a chance to learn those tenebrous abilities to which I have alluded in my earlier narrative. You will be my student, travelling with me, assisting me in my search, and learning those things that I might teach you in the course of our journeys. Moreover, when these matters are resolved, you will be given the chance to explore the multiverse, to see those other worlds and move among them at your whim. I know that there is nothing here for you anymore. Your life is empty, without meaning, and bereft of any emotion whatsoever. A terrible fate. I am here to take you away from all this, Mr. Zeigler. Come with me, and nothing will ever be the same."
I am thunderstruck. This is an awful lot to lay on a person all at once, and the sheer magnitude of what the man has said presses on my mind like an iron weight. I know that what he says is true, that this world posesses nothing of value for me, yet still...something about his words, the cant of his pitch, makes the entire thing seem contrived. I feel as though I am not being given any other options, that I am being herded quickly and quietly into the position- through judicious application of bright, flashy words. But in the end...did it matter?
"You've set this up," I mutter. "You've cut all my ties."
"Perhaps, but were they ever properly there in the first place? You know the answer to that, Mr. Zeigler."
"You have your doubts, this I know, but you must decide now whether they are worth throwing the entire possibility away. Tyme is growing short, Mr. Zeigler, and my supply of pleasant words is perilously low. There are wonders beyond anything you have ever dreamed out there, my friend, and you have the chance to see them all...but I must ask you: Yes, or No?
A moment passes, crystalline and perfect, a tiny little universe all it's own. Then it is gone.
"Okay," I say. "I will go with you."
The man in white says nothing, but only smiles.
"When do we leave?"
"Immediately. Take my hand."
I reach out, out, out, to touch that strange, milk-white palm...and then everything changes forever.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.