Once upon a time, there was a lone space traveller. He spent his life travelling from galaxy to galaxy, and was always in search of something. Sometimes it was a particular planet. Other times it was a glimpse of a certain star. He was constantly on the move, but not always in the way he had planned.
You see, the lone traveller had a strange habit. When he set off in search of a place, he often ended up taking an entirely different route to the one he intended. He didn’t mean to. Things just happened to him. Once, while in search of a small, rocky planet with a surface the colour of lilac blossoms, he met a company of travelling aliens who talked him into joining them. He spent six months touring the galaxy with them before finally circling back to his little lilac planet.
Another time, while searching for a particularly bright and beautiful star, he got distracted by a comet that went streaking past and followed it off into space. For a whole year he trailed after it, marvelling at the places he saw along the way. Yet all the while he longed for the star he had been searching for before the comet came along. When he eventually found it, it proved to be as beautiful and as radiant as he imagined. But as much as he had loved chasing the comet, he couldn’t help wishing he had found the star sooner.
Then there was the time he was coming into land on a shimmering golden moon. Just as he was about to touch down, a meteorite came hurtling out of nowhere and he was forced to change course. Unfortunately for the traveller, his detour sent him careening off into the orbit of a very large, orange planet, and it had taken him months to find his way back.
The traveller had had many rollicking adventures, but they often meant he got to places much later than he planned. Most of the time he didn’t mind. He was having fun, taking routes few other travellers had taken and exploring places they had never been. But that didn’t stop him being jealous of them. He often saw them, whizzing through space on the most direct routes, not stopping for detours or getting distracted by comets. He was one of the last to arrive at the little lilac planet, one of the last to see the radiant star and to land on the shimmering golden moon. He knew it didn’t really matter, but after years of feeling like he was lagging behind, the lone traveller was beginning to tire of it.
So imagine his delight when, one day, he came across a god. The huge deity was lounging on the rings of a gas giant, looking thoroughly uninterested in the things going on around him. He sat up when he saw the traveller approaching, and asked in a voice like rolling thunder, ‘What brings you here, little lone traveller?’
The traveller flopped down on the rings next to the god and heaved a weary sigh.
‘I don’t know what to do,’ he said. ‘Every time I set out in search of a place, I end up going off on a strange, meandering trajectory I never meant to go on.’
‘Do you regret going on these strange trajectories?’ asked the god.
The traveller thought about it for a moment.
‘No. I can’t say I do.’
He told the god all about his adventures-about touring with the aliens and following the comet, and a hundred other incidents besides.
‘It sounds like you’ve had a fascinating time,’ said the god when he had finished.
‘Then what is the problem?’
‘I suppose there isn’t one.’
‘You know you cannot have it both ways. You cannot reach your destination quickly and have the adventures.’
‘You have to make a choice. My feeling is, if you’d taken the direct route, you’d have been bored out of your mind a long time ago. You’d be wishing you’d gone off and had the adventures. Many do.’
‘Yes. I’ve spoken to thousands of travellers over the years. Most of them take the direct route. Some of them are perfectly happy with their choice, but many wish they had had more adventures. They wish they had the courage, the time, or even just the opportunity. But they don’t, and they regret it for the rest of their days.’
The traveller had never thought of it like that. He had been so busy envying his fellow travellers. It had never occurred to him that they might also be envying him.
‘I think you’re right,’ he said at length.
‘You always reach your destination eventually,’ the god pointed out.
‘And is it any less beautiful because other people got there first?’
‘There you are then.’
The god treated the traveller to one of his rare, benevolent smiles.
‘Do not regret your adventures, little taker of strange trajectories. You know exactly where you are going. Trust that you will always get there in the end.’
Encouraged by those wise words, the traveller bid the god farewell and prepared to set off once more.
‘Where should I go next?’ he asked, realising that for once he didn’t have a plan.
‘They say in the next galaxy over there is a planet whose surface is covered entirely in fluffy white dandelions.’
‘That sounds wonderful, I’ll go there.’
‘Don’t go straight there.’
‘Don’t worry, I won’t.’
With his destination in mind, and a new title courtesy of a god, the taker of strange trajectories set off in to space. He would find the planet whose surface was covered in dandelions. Of that he was sure. But how long it would take, or how many adventures he would have along the way, there was simply no way of knowing.