The Secret – full text

Originally Posted on April 13, 2015

The Secret

A Stellar Diaspora Short Story

Douglas Mitchell

Henry had never considered himself any different than the other kids. He had been just another boy among many. Not the strongest or the swiftest, but certainly never chosen last in games either. Not the smartest or particularly bookish but always ready in class with an answer and with an unusually keen interest in history–spending months researching some particular period or the development of some philosophy of thought or some technological praxis used by the ancients.

But as Henry’s friends had matured, and his class entered tertiary schooling where everyone settled on their first career specialization and mastered the necessary skills required to live in modern society; he stood out from the others. He simply could not pass his travelling test. The one really necessary skill in modern society. The only way to travel the distances required for modern life. The skill without which he would be forever isolated to his birth community.

He knew his parents had hoped to move on with their lives. It was common these days for people to live many roles in the course of a lifetime. Some stayed with the same partner, and simply switched careers. Others might change bodies, sexes, careers, communities–breaking completely with their former lives. Henry’s mother was one of these people. She longed to move on, but could not, until Henry passed this test and became a fully fledged member of society.

Henry had mastered all the necessary skills. He had easily passed the written test. He could travel with other people present with him, but when he was alone he could not; in fact, he had very nearly been killed in his last attempt. The experience had scared Henry so much he didn’t know if he could even make another solo attempt. He had even stopped travelling with others entirely, isolating himself further. His mother was now avoiding him, and he seldom even saw her now. Henry’s father reacted quite differently, spending even more time with Henry than he had before. It was almost as if Henry’s father had resigned himself to the care and support of Henry, as a parent must with a developmentally challenged child.

One afternoon Henry had a visitor.

“May I talk with you, young man?”, said the man, who had approached Henry in the field behind the family house.

The man was of indeterminate age, he would look to us as if he were in his late 20’s or early 30’s. For a modern man he could actually be any age from teens to many 10’s of thousands of years old. It is customary to use usages like ‘young man’ or ‘young lady’ this eon when the elder knew that there was at least several thousand years difference in ages.

“Of course, I would enjoy the company”, said Henry.

“My name is Gregor, your father asked me to talk with you”, the man said. He continued, “I’m a specialist in certain developmental cases like your own where a young person has difficulties in learning to travel. Your case is nearly unique in my experience, in that you don’t have any difficulties with the skills necessary for travelling–only the performance of the act when you are alone.”

“I’ve talked with most of the psych-engineers in the community, and I’ve never even heard of you”, said Henry, “What can you do for me? My fear is real, and my fear cannot be treated with any of the techniques currently available.” Henry related this without much emotion, but the look on his face showed his desperation.

Gregor smiled. “I’ve travelled from very far away to be here, Henry. From the opposite side of this galaxy. I had to learn the language spoken here. It had drifted quite a bit from the Standard I was used to speaking. I’m still having some problems with some of the idioms. I believe I might at least bring a different perspective to your problem, would you let me try?”

Henry had never spoken to anyone from so far away. The journey Gregor described would make him objectively older than anyone in the community. Perhaps anyone in this entire galaxy. Standard, the language that the human race had adopted after leaving Earth, changed so gradually; he had never heard of any modern human who had had to learn a different spoken language to speak to other humans. Gregor seemed to him to be like one of the ancients, when all people had lived on the Earth with their different languages so long ago.

Gregor continued, “Tomorrow, let’s meet in my office, and we’ll see if we can work on your travelling problem.” And with that, he shook hands with Henry, and walked away.

Henry immediately started running datastore queries about average journeys between star system communities, clusters, and intra and inter galactic journeys. People simply did not travel the longer distances often, even though they travelled at the speed of light so that subjectively any trip took no time at all to them. It was far more likely for people to hop from star to star in the same area of their local galaxy, perhaps traversing a single galaxy or the local group from end to end over the long lifetimes that modern humans enjoyed these days. Tomorrow could not come soon enough.

###

Gregor had carefully listened to everything Henry had told him about his fear of travelling. They had been meeting every day, for several hours each day. Gregor said little, allowing Henry to talk, only slightly guiding their conversations. When they came to some natural stopping place, they parted, setting a time for the next meeting. They met in different places, sometimes in parks, sometimes in Gegor’s office, sometimes over chiga in a cafe. Henry had run out of any new insights to his problem after a couple of weeks. They continued to meet and talk. Gregor now spoke more about his experiences. For a human, he was quite old. He had seen much, and was a good storyteller. He asked Henry about his historical research and it seemed that ancient history was also one of his many interests. Henry gathered that Gregor had been a historian in the past, perhaps 5 or 6 careers in the past.

Henry talked at great length, over the course of several weeks of meetings, about some of the research he had done about the curious superstitions of the ancients. Their organized appreciation of the infinite. Something that modern humans now pursued as their most personal, private activity. Everyone, was now encouraged to develop their personal philosophy with the help of a spiritual adviser. It was rare for anyone to even refer to their personal beliefs except with their closest friends. To actually meet on a regular basis with a large group of people to experience awe of creation together was one of the strangest practices of the ancients.

The very word for this practice ‘religion’ did not currently exist in Standard. Some modern humans didn’t even believe the historical accounts of these practices, it was just too alien to modern thought. Henry had contributed to the research on these practices. His insights into this area had become well known as he had published several papers to the peer-reviewed datastore shared between human communities. Henry had developed a rare insight into these ancient religious practices and theological thought.

Henry was very surprised when Gregor abruptly cancelled their next meeting. They had been meeting for several months, and he had gotten used to the routine. It had also allowed him to partially forget why they were meeting and his problem.
A week went by, then a second week. Finally, Henry received a message from Gregor to meet at his office.

“I know why you are having trouble with travelling”, Gregor proclaimed on seeing Henry. “Please sit down, I also think that we might be able to solve your problem.”

“Your problem involves the state change we undergo when we travel. Thousands of years ago we humans learned that thought is equivalent to energy and matter. Even the ancients knew that energy and matter were equivalent, but only modern humans can control-ably transform themselves into pure energy; photons, so that using the inherent speed of that form, we may travel to where ever we need to go, and re-embody ourselves on arrival”, said Gregor.

“I know all this already!”, said Henry, jumping to his feet. “And I can transform myself as long as someone transforms with me! But, when I am alone, I lose my sense of myself; if my father had not been nearby on my last solo test, transforming himself and monitoring me, the energy of my body might have destroyed the departure area of this world. I cannot take the chance with travelling if that might happen again.”

Gregor asked Henry to sit down again, made chiga for both of them and continued, “Why do you lose that sense of yourself when you transform?”

Henry replied, “I don’t know.”

Gregor gently disagreed, “I think that you do, it is because you believe in the ancient belief of the existence of the soul.”

Henry was speechless. It was an incredible breach of manners to suddenly start talking about another’s personal beliefs, but he also realized the truth of what Gregor had said. He did believe in the soul. He believed that if he totally converted to energy, his soul might be lost in the process. It was only when there was someone else with him, helping in his conversion, perhaps even mediating his conversion that he did not panic.

Gregor stopped their session and scheduled one for the next day. “You’ve had quite a shock today. I have some ideas for a solution. But, I need you to have meditated on the truths we’ve talked about today. Then with clear minds we’ll be able to explore solutions.”

###

When next they met, Gregor started the conversation. “Your problem is that from your extensive research, you have successfully recaptured part of the mindset of the ancients. Belief can have powerful effects on Thought. Especially when you are manipulating the equivalent energy of the mass of a human body. I believe, that the solution to your crisis of belief is another belief of the ancients. The concept of God.”

“The supreme Being and Creator?”, exclaimed Henry, “How can that help me? I’ve already stranded myself to my birth community by my belief in my soul.”

“I’ve prepared a course of study which will show you what I’ve discovered about the ancients’ philosophical systems. It is really quite profound what they were able to accomplish mentally with almost no understanding of how mind, thought, time, energy, and matter really interact”, explained Gregor, “It would be best if you could arrive at these conclusions yourself, once you’ve studied this material. When you are ready, let me know and we’ll meet then.”

It was interesting material. Drawn from several of the ancient philosophical/religious systems. The idea of the supreme Being, Creator, and first Observer. And then it dawned on Henry what Gregor had seen in these beliefs. If he believed in this God being, his soul would always have that external observer – as when he travelled with others. And the most surprising thing to him was that even with all the advances in the sciences of mind and matter–these beliefs of the ancients could still very well be true!

Meeting with Gregor, Henry related his findings and then while they were conversing, he had another revelation! He suddenly said, “Gregor! You share this belief, don’t you? This belief in the Creator, the first Observer.”

Gregor with a twinkle in his eye and the satisfied air of the teacher who has a precocious student, laughed with Henry and said, “Now Henry, I am really shocked you would question me on my personal beliefs”, Gregor continued, “I think it’s time you attempted your solo test again. No need to tempt fate too much–but it is my judgement that you should travel to somewhere you’ve been many times, somewhere you know well, like the adjoining planet in this community; as soon as possible. Both I and your father can monitor on each side of space, but I know that you are now ready to travel.”

Henry was ready. He successfully travelled to the adjoining planet. With the assurance that the God of his ancestors was observing and caring for his soul, even as he transformed his body. He now had no problem moving his body between the far flung stars.