The long goodbye

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I write this in stolen moments, increasingly rare, when I feel truly alone - undisturbed, unwatched.

You, my friends and family, look at me strangely and exchange concerned glances. You discuss me behind closed doors. I’m truly sorry; my behavior is inexcusable. I only hope this statement can provide something in the way of explanation.

You are familiar with my life’s work – my attempts to navigate the multiverse, to stabilize those fragile bubbles of possibility that form and pop and merge and drift away with maddening irregularity. Everyone says it’s an impossible task.

Maybe they’re right. But I finally had a device that would at least allow me to spectate from the outside – a remote control of sorts, that flips through the smorgasbord of alternate realities as if they were TV channels. So that was what I was doing – trying to get a signal on my alternate reality TV screen – when the world started to flicker as if a strobe light had gone off.

A few seconds later, the flickering stopped. Had I fried the machine? No – things seemed intact. Then I noticed it – a fine, sparkling miasma hanging in the air all around me, like gold dust. But this cloud responded to my touch, bucking and swarming around me, reorganizing itself into elaborate formations. I snagged a handful and put them under the microscope, nearly falling off my chair at the sight: tiny, perfect unicellular life forms, like strangely shaped, wriggling snowflakes. Like no microbe known to science.

Then, just as suddenly, they disappeared. The room lost its golden sheen, its dull grey tones gloomier than ever. Stepping outside into the bright afternoon sunlight for some air, I shrugged and told myself I needed a vacation – I was clearly working too hard.

But the episodes didn’t stop. From then on, I started to get regular glimpses of this other world, hidden for so long behind ours. Us superimposed over them. Or them over us. Once you've seen it, you can't un-see it. A tiny part of you is forever entangled with them.

The single cells were only the beginning. This strange and beautiful world I was now privy to seemed to have the biodiversity of the Amazon. I’ve filled several notebooks with descriptions of all the bipeds, quadrupeds, winged creatures, insects, and humanoids that walked, waddled, soared, crawled, or waltzed through my mundane world. My biologist friends, whom I pestered with wild-eyed, tentative queries about new domains of life, may be interested.

The flipping grew more frequent, the superimpositions more disconcerting. We'd be eating dinner and suddenly my wife would be sharing a chair with a mythical beast straight out of HP Lovecraft, body parts sticking out of her at strange angles while she chewed and chatted obliviously about the minutiae of her day.

Nowadays, I see them everywhere. And perhaps I could have learned to live with that.

But then they started talking to me.

They’d been watching me all along. The gold dust microbes weren’t just pretty – they were a tripwire, a surveillance system.

They've been here on earth at least as long as we have, evolving alongside us, hidden in plain sight behind the veil of the multiverse. Which I had been to first to perforate. Not completely, of course, but just enough to say hello.

They've known of our existence for eons, and have long prepared for the day of first contact. They have no desire to fight, and would have been willing to negotiate a peaceful co-existence.

The problem was, they weren’t so sure about us. And who can blame them? They've had plenty of opportunities to observe how we deal with people different from ourselves. They just don’t want to take that risk. They’ve deemed us a threat to their survival.

And so, they’re leaving. They won’t tell me where, of course. But since their vastly superior technology can take them hundreds of light years away, it’s safe to say we will never see them again.

They've sworn me to secrecy. I can't tell a soul until they've left without a trace. But I fear I will lose my wits before that day comes – sometimes I can’t even tell which superimposition I’m in any more. And in my darkest moments, I’m gripped by the fear that I’ve imagined the whole thing. That’s why I'm setting all this down now, while I still can.

There they are again. No one else but me will ever set eyes on them. Yes, I’ve achieved every scientist's dream – to probe the limits of the universe, to be the first to literally touch the unknown with my fingertips. But is it worth it? I’m irrevocably changed, and I don’t know how I can fill the void they will leave behind. No endeavor will ever satisfy me again.

Worse – imagine the staggering advances we could make, the problems we could solve, if we could pick up even just a crumb of their technology. And here I am, aiding and abetting their flight. Am I betraying the human race?

No. None of this melodrama – my conscience is clear. I owe it to them, because they're probably right about humanity. We're just not ready for the quantum leap.

About the Author: 
S. Sim is here to hide from academic writing.