Well, my first heartbreak caused me to travel – mind-travel – around the world trying to help people. My second heartbreak drove me even further.
I had had enough of being altruistic. I was seriously disillusioned and depressed. I was even feeling suicidal.
In a mad moment, alone in a tiny room in a converted monastery, I sent my mind upwards – up, up, as far as it could go, wanting to escape the whole world, wanting the silence of nothingness.
But I didn’t find nothingness. I heard strange voices. I heard strange music.
I found another planet.
I had no idea where I was, how far away from Earth. I thought I was dreaming, or in heaven. I drifted down unfamiliar streets peopled by unfamiliar beings. I couldn’t believe the things that I was seeing. Everything was fascinating, and confusing, and scary. I drifted and drifted, and looked and looked, wanting to take everything in, wanting to make the most of the experience. There was always one more corner to look around, one more gigantic, mysterious building to look into, one more expanse of purple sea to cross before coming upon the next amazing settlement, populated again by creatures that were definitely people, but definitely not human.
It was only when I realised that I’d been exploring this new place for hours, and that I was feeling exhausted and battling with sleep, that I let myself slip away, suddenly back on Earth and in my own body, and reeling with the shock of what had just happened.
I got up and looked at myself in the small mirror on my dresser. Was I truly mad? Had it been a hallucination? Had I dreamed it, or made it all up? In a dreadful moment I realised I would never know the answers to those questions – unless I could make my way back to that planet, and somehow prove to myself it was real.
A moment of horror at the thought of never being able to find the same place again prompted me to throw myself down and immediately try to repeat the experience. Amazingly, thankfully, I found myself in the same strange world, though I don’t know how I did it – I just sent my mind upwards like I had before and focussed on the memories of what I had seen there.
Back on Earth again, I slept for over twelve hours.
I woke up and remembered what had happened. I sat with my head in my hands for some time, hardly able to take in this amazing turn of events. How could it possibly be that my awareness had travelled vast distances across space in an instant? What about the laws of physics?
Belatedly, I shook with terror at the thought that I might not have been able to get back into my body, but it seemed I could do so without a problem. Mind travelling offworld wasn’t any harder than travelling anywhere else.
I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before. Obviously, because I hadn’t known there was anywhere to go. But I now knew what no-one else on the planet knew – that mankind wasn’t alone in the universe.
Unless, of course, it was just that I was mad.
I ate something and then set off again for the planet with the purple seas and strange looking non-human people.
When I got back, six Earth hours had passed. I wept and wept at the significance – and joy – of what I had discovered, and, even at that early stage, grabbed a notebook and began to write down descriptions of what I had seen.
A week later, there was a pile of four notebooks on my bedside table, packed full of observations and drawings. I had been able to get back to the planet whenever I wanted, and most importantly I had memorised and written down the patterns of the stars in the night sky of that planet.
In this way I could attempt somehow to objectively prove where the planet was that I was travelling to. (I did this successfully by contacting an astronomical observatory, and purchasing, at massive expense, some computer simulations someone had done of what stars and constellations would look like when viewed from other points in space.) A few days trawling through the patterns until I saw something I recognised, and then narrowing things down even further and looking up the research on what possibly habitable planets there were in that area – amazingly I soon had a likely contender for the planet I had been visiting. When I saw the number of light years it was away from earth, I nearly fainted with shock and disbelief.
I read up more about planets thought likely to be able to support life, and, emboldened by my success at locating the first one, plucked up courage to actively try to find another. It was easy. I looked at the star charts, I felt my way upwards again, and suddenly felt the beginnings of an understanding about how distance might be no barrier to thought.
You could think about someone who lived on the other side of the world just as readily as someone who lived next door. Thinking yourself half way across the galaxy wasn’t any different. I imagined what it might be like, I put myself there mentally, and found there was indeed a hubbub of life which drew me towards the place, inviting me to observe.
I spent a month observing and documenting my second planet. (I was particularly enthralled by the amazing six limbed creatures I found there which could both walk and fly, and looked a little like the dragons of Earth’s mythology, except for their curious horns and vegetarian habits.)
Six months later I had found, and documented in a cursory way, nine inhabited planets. None were any more difficult for me to get to than the first. And it seemed like there were many more to be found. The further afield I ventured, the more confident I grew that the universe was indeed populated by many and various intelligent civilisations. But the distances – when I looked them up – were getting so ludicrously massive, I became scared to go too much further, thinking that surely, there must be some limit even to my unique ability.
And I was already quite weighed down with the responsibility of the knowledge I was amassing. For as I explored these new worlds, doing my best to find their centres of power and knowledge – in short, their governments and scientists – one thing was becoming clear.
They all existed, as we did on Earth, without knowledge of each other. None of them seemed to have overcome those barriers imposed by such things as the speed of light, and managed to travel or even communicate with their neighbours.
Never had it been more frustrating that I could only observe and not interact in any way with the peoples of these planets. Try as I might, I could not enter another being’s mind, or make a pencil move, or in any other way leave a message or send a sign, that might nudge these alien races in the direction of making contact with each other.
My position now seemed impossibly significant and frightening. Not only was I the only human being (as far as I was aware) who could visit other worlds with their mind, but I was the only link between all those worlds, which could not communicate with each other!
I might observe an astronomer on one world looking just slightly in the wrong direction for evidence of an adjacent civilisation – but would not be able to correct the angle of his search.
I might witness a calamity on one planet, such as a shortage of a particular power source or foodstuff, and know of another world which held the solution to the problem – but could advise neither place of the complementary society which might help and save them.
I could observe a council of war, plotting the takeover or obliteration of neighbouring space, but could not warn their targets of impending doom. (Fortunately this was not something I came across!)
But I could listen to any conversation, read any book (once I had mastered the language), look over someone’s shoulder at a computer screen – in general, know what was going on in the universe!
Was I indeed God?
If so, it was only a very inept one, who could watch and care, but not direct or influence.
I resigned myself to recording all the factual information I could about these extra-terrestrial worlds, at the same time thinking of ways in which I could plausibly inform or persuade anyone on Earth to believe my story.
I tried to tip off those organisations which listened out for messages from space, but they didn’t take me seriously.
I thought often of publishing and publicising broadly everything I had learned, but could not see a way of making it plausible, as I had absolutely no proof. I couldn’t bring anything back with me, not one plant or rock or book or computer file. I couldn’t take a photograph, I couldn’t make a film, I couldn’t record a conversation.
I could draw a star chart, based on what I had observed whilst on another planet, but who would believe it was anything other than a projection I had worked out using a computer program?
I could teach myself something I had observed on another planet – a complex formula or process, for example, that no-one on earth had yet discovered. But how could it be verified, and who would believe that the source of my knowledge was extra-terrestrial?
I vowed not to give up on all this though. I would find a way – I would bide my time.
The most useful thing I had decided I could do was learn as much as I could of all those alien languages. I was making myself the only being (though I still hoped – oh how I hoped – that there might be more) who could enable communication between worlds! If they should ever somehow make contact, I would be a ready-made translator for the first Galactic alliance!
I poured my knowledge of these languages into a computer, as I knew how important the knowledge of them I had amassed might one day be. I published secret books, and left copies of computer discs with various (bemused) solicitors, to ensure that this information was not lost to the world.
I had never worked so hard, exploring and documenting those planets, those peoples, and those languages. And yet it all seemed futile, if there was never to be a way we could all communicate with each other. What dreadful irony, what dreadful sadness.
Did I believe in it all myself? These many occupied planets, and my travels to them? Yes, I had to. Objectively I could see it might all be a very complex delusion, and yet I knew that those star charts I’d observed millions of light years away were the same as the projections I had looked up on my return. I couldn’t believe that my mind had made up nine completely different languages, not to mention all the other amazing things I had seen and experienced.
So it looked like it was all true. Which meant that I was in a very unique and special position.
And that I was more terrified than ever.