Teddie, the hero of c3, lived in my head for years and I knew what she could do, but I didn’t know what to call it. The other members of my superhero family had easy to describe skills. We had a telepathic mom. Dad, a former athlete, could slow down the passage of time. This ability shows up in lots of stories; I went ahead and called him a time warper. Big brother Zane learned to morph his own appearance, becoming something of a real life shape changer. Big sister Ariel could see into the future.
But what about Teddie? Well, I knew that she could become invisible, and teleport somehow. It was like she could be anywhere she wanted and no one would see her. The problem was that these are magical realism books, written so as to hopefully convince my readers that the stories I tell just maybe could happen in the world in which we live. How could I ever convince a reader that a character could both turn invisible and teleport to anywhere, I wondered, as I began to write the story.
Then it hit me. Her body doesn’t have to go anywhere. Just like Edgar Rice Burroughs sent his hero John Carter to Mars via some sort of astral projection, my hero could do the same. So I began to study astral projection. It turns out that there is quite a lot of material written on the subject, and I soon learned that it wasn’t quite what I wanted either. Astral projection technically involves going to some other plane of existence, and I wanted my hero to stay right here on earth.
No, it was an out of body experience that I was after. In an OBE, as they are affectionately called, the traveler visits a plane that exactly mirrors our physical world. They are unable to interact with the solids around them, but under the right circumstances they can return with accurate knowledge of distant objects and events.
I discovered that there are quite a few books out there that claim to be able to train you to have an out of body experience, and the internet is full of people happy to describe their own adventures doing the same. I had run into something similar while writing x0 and researching telepathy. Once again, I asked myself — do I believe any of this?
I was a scientist before I retired, a geophysicist to be specific. It is not surprising that I default to a belief in the laws of nature and I approach anything else with skepticism. Thanks to my background, though, I also know that the universe naturally behaves in many strange ways that we can’t explain, and that the more physics you know, the stranger some of it gets.
As I read of these OBEs, I do admit that a few of the authors came across as scam artists, and a couple others seemed out-and-out deluded, at least to me. But most fell into neither of those categories. From their writing at least, they appeared both rational and sincere. I decided that a lot of the folks describing their out of body experiences were just very imaginative people, and the secret lay in how they chose to see things. But did that describe them all? Reading through many of their stories I concluded that I had no idea how possible, much less how common, real OBEs are. Maybe the world has many real life Teddies. In fact, maybe an entire c3 organization exists.
You can see some of my own thought processes in this excerpt from c3, when Teddie first begins the training to turn her innate abilities into a well developed skill.
Lhatu swallowed hard. He had known before he ever agreed to do this that the next few sentences would be the most difficult part.
“Let me back up, please. Amy, you see the world from inside you, so to speak. What I mean is that even though human consciousness is not understood very well, we think that it comes from inside of our bodies, inside of our brains. Some people imagine that they leave their bodies behind and wander off while they sleep or even as they go into a trance, and quite a few books have been written on the subject.”
“Sure,” Amy said. “Astral projection. I’ve heard of it. You think it’s impossible?”
“No, I’m saying that in most cases the person is just experiencing a lucid dream, or a creative daydream—harmless and even somewhat consciousness-expanding. I’ve no quarrel with this, it just doesn’t involve really leaving their bodies in, well, in the way that I do.”
“Oh.” The sarcasm was back. “So most other people can’t really do this, but you can.”
“Yes.” Lhatu said it simply, without embarrassment or pride. “And I’ve been trained to do it better since birth. I work for the people who trained me. I serve as their chief scout and trainer.”
“Is this shadowy organization that sneaks around watching kids run by some kind of a crime organization by any chance?” Amy asked.
“No. It’s a sort of informal monarchy and it’s run by my grandmother.”
“Oh.” Amy honestly didn’t know what to say.
“Look, there aren’t a lot of people who can do this naturally,” Lhatu went on. “It’s not nearly as common as, say, telepathy, which of course isn’t all that common at either. Most travelers—and we refer to it as traveling—most travelers start to have out-of-body experiences some time in their teens. It’s not always the case, but often some sort of trauma, or a series of traumatic events, encourages this ability. Feeling powerless, being powerless, needing to escape and having no other means to do so can sometimes set this ability in motion if the young person is prone to it to begin with.”
Lhatu gave Amy a long hard look. “It shouldn’t surprise you that more females develop this ability than males. Not that there aren’t plenty of young males in this world trapped in awful situations, too. And obviously most young people of either gender can never do this, no matter how desperate they become. Like everything else human, this ability seems to come from a combination of genes, environment and the very essence of the person themselves.”
Lhatu turned to Teddie. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
Teddie looked down embarrassed, and Amy got it.
“Teddie? Is that what this is all about? Your dreams? Seeing Usha at the bus station leaving for Gangtok? Seeing her flee into Bhutan? You think now that this is all real?” Amy asked.
“I guess so,” Teddie said. “At least this good friend of my mom’s thinks it is because this guy here told him so, and now I’m supposed to stay here and be trained so that I can help them find Michelle and Usha both.”
“I’m scared, Amy.” The words popped out of Teddie’s mouth before she could call them back. “I’m not sure I want to learn how to be a freak.” She gave Lhatu a little bit of an apologetic smile. “No offense.”
“None taken,” he said. “This is absolutely your choice, Teddie, and it will continue to be so. You may quit or pause the training at any time you are the least bit uncomfortable.” Then he added with his own small smile back. “We are all kind of freaks already in our own way, you know? This will just make you a more talented freak.”
“Talented freak. I do kind of like that.” Teddie smiled back more confidently, and for the sake of her young friend, Amy decided to put her own skepticism on hold.
Like my character Amy, I too put my skepticism on hold as I did my research, and I did my best to treat the subject matter itself with an open mind.
No, I didn’t try the training to induce an out-of-body experience, and I’m not sure if I ever will. I may be a little like my character Amy in more ways than one. As Amy points out in my book, the state of not knowing is sometimes the best state to be in.
Here are two of my favorite sources of information on the subject: