THE Galactic Society of Worlds had sought to perfect its communication with other galaxies. The simpler medium of contact was telepathic; but it seemed desirable to reach out physically also across the huge void between this galaxy and the next. It was in the attempt to send envoys on such voyages that the Society of Worlds brought upon itself the epidemic of exploding stars.
Before describing this series of disasters I shall say something of the conditions of other galaxies as they were known to us through our participation in the experience of our own galaxy.
Telepathic exploration had long ago revealed that at least in some other galaxies there existed minded worlds. And now, after long experiment, the worlds of our galaxy, working for this purpose as a single galactic mind, had attained much more detailed knowledge of the cosmos as a whole. This had proved difficult because of an unsuspected parochialism in the mental attitude of the worlds of each galaxy. In the basic physical and biological constitutions of the galaxies there was no far-reaching difference. In each there was a diversity of races of the same general types as those of our own galaxy. But upon the cultural plane the trend of development in each galactic society had produced important mental idiosyncrasies, often so deep-seated as to be unwitting. Thus it was very difficult at first for the developed galaxies to make contact with one another. Our own galactic culture had been dominated by the culture of the Symbiotics, which had developed in the exceptionally happy sub-galaxy. In spite of the horrors of the imperial age, ours was therefore a culture having a certain blandness which made telepathic intercourse with more tragic galaxies difficult to establish. Further, the detail of basic concepts and values accepted by our own galactic society was also largely a development of the marine culture that had dominated the sub-galaxy. Though the “continental” population of worlds was mainly humanesque, its native cultures had been profoundly influenced by the oceanic mentality. And since this oceanic mental texture was rare amongst galactic societies, our galaxy was rather more isolated than most.
After long and patient work, however, our galactic society succeeded in forming a fairly complete survey of the cosmical population of galaxies. It was discovered that at this time the many galaxies were in many stages of mental, as of physical, development. Many very young systems, in which nebular matter still predominated over stars, contained as yet no planets. In others, though already there was a sprinkling of the vital grains, life had nowhere reached the human level. Some galaxies, though physically mature, were wholly barren of planetary systems, either through sheer accident or by reason of the exceptionally sparse distribution of their stars. In several, out of the millions of galaxies, a single intelligent world had spread its race and its culture throughout the galaxy, organizing the whole as an egg’s germ organizes into itself the whole substance of the egg. In these galaxies, very naturally, the galactic culture had been based on the assumption that from the one single germ the whole cosmos was to be peopled. When telepathic intercourse with other galaxies was at last stumbled upon, its effect was at first utterly bewildering. There were not a few galaxies in which two or more such germs had developed independently and finally come into contact. Sometimes the result was symbiosis, sometimes endless strife or even mutual destruction. By far the commonest type of of galactic society was that in which many systems of worlds had developed independently, come into conflict, slaughtered one another, produced vast federations and empires, plunged again and again into social chaos, and struggled between whiles haltingly toward galactic Utopia. A few had already attained that goal, though seared with bitterness. More were still floundering. Many were so undermined by war that there seemed little prospect of recovery. To such a type our own galaxy would have belonged had it not been for the good fortune of the Symbiotics.
To this account of the galactic survey two points should be added. First, there were certain very advanced galactic societies which had been telepathic spectators of all history in our own and all other galaxies. Secondly, in not a few galaxies the stars had recently begun unexpectedly exploding and destroying their girdles of worlds.
While our Galactic Society of Worlds was perfecting its telepathic vision, and at the same time improving its own social and material structure, the unexpected disasters which we had already observed from afar forced it to attend strictly to the task of preserving the lives of its constituent worlds.
The occasion of the first accident was an attempt to detach a star from its natural course and direct it upon an inter-galactic voyage. Telepathic intercourse with the nearest of the foreign galaxies was fairly reliable, but, as I have said, it had been decided that a physical exchange of worlds would be invaluable for mutual understanding and cooperation. Plans were therefore made for projecting several stars with their attendant systems of worlds across the vast ocean of space that separated the two floating islets of civilization. The voyage would of course be thousands of times longer than anything hitherto attempted. At its completion many more of the stars in each galaxy would already have ceased to shine, and the end of all life in the cosmos would already be in sight. Yet it was felt that the enterprise of linking galaxy with galaxy throughout the cosmos in this manner would be well justified by the great increase of mutual insight which it would produce in the galaxies in the last and most difficult phase of cosmical life.
After prodigies of experiment and calculation the first attempt at intergalactic voyaging was undertaken. A certain star, barren of planets, was used as a reservoir of energy, both normal and sub-atomic. By cunning devices far beyond my comprehension this fund of power was directed upon a chosen star with planetary girdles in such a way as to sway it gradually in the direction of the foreign galaxy. The task of securing that its planets should remain in their true orbits during this operation, and during the subsequent acceleration of their sun, was very delicate, but was accomplished without the destruction of more than a dozen worlds. Unfortunately, just as the star was correctly aimed and was beginning to gather speed, it exploded. A sphere of incandescent material, expanding from the sun with incredible speed, swallowed up and destroyed every girdle of planets. The star then subsided.
Throughout the history of the galaxy such sudden effulgence and quiescence of a star had been a very common occurrence. It was known to consist of an explosion of sub-atomic energy from the star’s superficial layers. This was caused sometimes by the impact of some small wandering body, often no bigger than an asteroid; sometimes by factors in the star’s own physical evolution. In either case the Galactic Society of Worlds could predict the event with great accuracy and take steps either to divert the intruding body or to remove the threatened world-system out of harm’s way. But this particular disaster was entirely unforeseen. No cause could be assigned to it. It infringed the established laws of physics.
While the Society of Worlds was trying to understand what had happened, another star exploded. This was the sun of one of the leading world-systems. Attempts had recently been made to increase this star’s output of radiation, and it was thought that the disaster must have been due to these experiments. After a while another and yet other stars exploded, destroying all their worlds. In several cases attempts had recently been made either to alter the star’s course or tap its stored energy.
The trouble spread. System after system of worlds was destroyed. All tampering with stars had now been abandoned, yet the epidemic of “novae” continued, even increased. In every case the exploding star was a sun with a planetary system.
The normal “nova” phase, the explosion caused not by collision but by internal forces, was known to occur only in a star’s youth or early maturity, and seldom, if ever, more often than once in each star’s career. In this late phase of the galaxy far more stars had passed the natural “nova” stage than not. It would be possible, therefore, to move whole systems of worlds from the dangerous younger stars and settle them in close orbits round the older luminaries. With immense expense of energy this operation was several times performed. Heroic plans were made for the transformation of the whole galactic society by migration to the safe stars, and the euthanasia of the excess population of worlds that could not be thus accommodated.
While this plan was being carried out, it was defeated by a new series of disasters. Stars that had already exploded developed a power of exploding again and again whenever they were girdled with planets. Moreover, yet another kind of disaster now began to occur. Very aged stars, which had long since passed the period when explosion was possible, began to behave in an astounding manner. A plume of incandescent substance would issue from the photosphere, and this, as the star revolved, would sweep outwards as a trailing whirl. Sometimes this fiery proboscis calcined the surface of every planet in every orbit, killing all its life. Sometimes, if the sweep of the proboscis was not quite in the plane of the planetary orbits, a number of planets escaped. But in many cases in which the destruction was not at first complete the proboscis gradually brought itself more accurately into the planetary plane and destroyed the remaining worlds.
It soon became clear that, if the two kinds of stellar activity remained unchecked, civilization would be undermined and perhaps life exterminated throughout the galaxy. Astronomical knowledge provided no clue whatever to the problem. The theory of stellar evolutions had seemed perfect, but it had no place for these singular events. Meanwhile the Society of Worlds had set about the task of artificially exploding all stars that had not yet spontaneously passed through the “nova” phase. It was hoped thus to render them comparatively safe, and then to use them once more as suns. But now that all kinds of stars had become equally dangerous, this work was abandoned. Instead, arrangements were made to procure the radiation necessary to life from the stars that had ceased to shine. Controlled disintegration of their atoms would turn them into satisfactory suns, at least for a while. Unfortunately the epidemic of fiery plumes was increasing rapidly. System by system, the living worlds were being swept out of existence. Desperate research hit at last on a method of diverting the fiery tentacle away from the plane of the ecliptic. This process was far from reliable. Moreover, if it succeeded, the sun would sooner or later project another filament.
The state of the galaxy was being very rapidly changed. Hitherto there had been an incalculable wealth of stellar energy, but this energy was now being shed like rain from a thunder-cloud. Though a single explosion did not seriously affect the vigor of a star, repetitions became more exhausting as they increased in number. Many young stars had been reduced to decrepitude. The great majority of the stellar population had now passed their prime; multitudes were mere glowing coals or lightless ash. The minded worlds, also, were much reduced in number, for in spite of all ingenious measures of defense, casualties were still heavy. This reduction of the population of the worlds was the more serious because in its prime the Galactic Society of Worlds had been so highly organized. In some ways it was less like a society than a brain. The disaster had almost blotted out certain higher “brain-centers” and greatly reduced the vitality of all. It had also seriously impaired telepathic intercourse between the systems of worlds by forcing each system to concentrate on its own urgent physical problem of defense against the attacks of its own sun. The communal mind of the Society of Worlds now ceased to operate.
The emotional attitude of the worlds had also changed. The fervor for the establishment of cosmical Utopia had vanished, and with it the fervor for the completion of the spirit’s adventure by the fulfilment of knowledge and creative capacity. Now that extermination seemed inevitable within a comparatively short time, there was an increasing will to meet fate with religious peace. The desire to realize the far cosmical goal, formerly the supreme motive of all awakened worlds, now seemed to be extravagant, even impious. How should the little creatures, the awakened worlds, reach out to knowledge of the whole cosmos, and of the divine. Instead they must play their own part in the drama, and appreciate their own tragic end with godlike detachment and relish.
This mood of exultant resignation, appropriate to unavoidable disaster, quickly changed under the influence of a new discovery. In certain quarters there had long been a suspicion that the irregular activity of the stars was not merely automatic but purposeful, in fact that the stars were alive, and were striving to rid themselves of the pest of planets. This possibility had at first seemed too fantastic; but it gradually became obvious that the destruction of a star’s planetary system was the end which determined the duration of the irregular action. Of course it was possible that in some unexplained but purely mechanical way the presence of many planetary girdles created the explosion, or the fiery limb. Astronomical physics could suggest no mechanism whatever which could have this result. Telepathic research was now undertaken in order to test the theory of stellar consciousness, and if possible to set up communication with the minded stars. This venture was at first completely barren. The worlds had not the slightest knowledge of the right method of approach to minds which, if they existed at all, must be inconceivably different from their own. It seemed all too probable that no factors in the mentality of the minded worlds were sufficiently akin to the stellar mentality to form a means of contact. Though the worlds used their imaginative powers as best they might, though they explored, so to speak, every subterranean passage and gallery of their own mentality, tapping everywhere in the hope of answer, they received none. The theory of stellar purposefulness began to seem incredible. Once more the worlds began to turn to the consolation, nay the joy, of acceptance. Nevertheless, a few world-systems that had specialized in psychological technique persisted in their researches, confident that, if only they could communicate with the stars, some kind of mutual understanding and concord could be brought about between the two great orders of minds in the galaxy. At long last the desired contact with the stellar minds was effected. It came not through the unaided efforts of the minded worlds of our galaxy but partly through the mediation of another galaxy where already the worlds and the stars had begun to realize one another.
Even to the minds of fully awakened worlds the stellar mentality was almost too alien to be conceived at all. To me, the little human individual, all that is most distinctive in it is now quite incomprehensible. Nevertheless, its simpler aspect I must now try to summarize as best I may, since it is essential to my story. The minded worlds made their first contact with the stars on the higher planes of stellar experience, but I shall not follow the chronological order of their discoveries. Instead I shall begin with aspects of the stellar nature which were haltingly inferred only after intercourse of a sort had become fairly well established. It is in terms of stellar biology and physiology that the reader may most easily conceive something of the mental life of stars.
Stars are best regarded as living organisms, but organisms which are physiologically and psychologically of a very peculiar kind. The outer and middle layers of a mature star apparently consist of “tissues” woven of currents of incandescent gases. These gaseous tissues live and maintain the stellar consciousness by intercepting part of the immense flood of energy that wells from the congested and furiously active interior of the star. The innermost of the vital layers must be a kind of digestive apparatus which transmutes the crude radiation into forms required for the maintenance of the star’s life. Outside this digestive area lies some sort of coordinating layer, which may be thought of as the star’s brain. The outermost layers, including the corona, respond to the excessively faint stimuli of the star’s cosmical environment, to light from neighboring stars, to cosmic rays, to the impact of meteors, to tidal stresses caused by the gravitational influence of planets or of other stars. These influences could not, of course, produce any clear impression but for a strange tissue of gaseous sense organs, which discriminate between them in respect of quality and direction, and transmit information to the correlating “brain” layer.
The sense experience of a star, though so foreign to us, proved after all fairly intelligible. It was not excessively difficult for us to enter telepathically into the star’s perception of the gentle titillations, strokings, pluckings, and scintillations that came to it from the galactic environment. It was strange that, though the star’s own body was actually in a state of extreme brilliance, none of this outward-flowing light took effect upon its sense organs. Only the faint incoming light of other stars was seen. This afforded the perception of a surrounding heaven of flashing constellations, which were set not in blackness but in blackness tinged with the humanly inconceivable color of the cosmic rays. The stars themselves were seen colored according to their style and age. But though the sense perception of the stars was fairly intelligible to us, the motor side of stellar life was at first quite incomprehensible. We had to accustom ourselves to an entirely new way of regarding physical events. For the normal voluntary motor activity of a star appears to be no other than the star’s normal physical movement studied by our science, movement in relation to other stars and the galaxy as a whole. A star must be thought of as vaguely aware of the gravitational influence of the whole galaxy, and more precisely aware of the “pull” of its near neighbors; though of course their influence would generally be far too slight to be detected by human instruments. To these influences the star responds by voluntary movement, which to the astronomers of the little minded worlds seems purely mechanical; but the star itself unquestioningly and rightly feels this movement to be the freely willed expression of its own psychological nature. Such at least was the almost incredible conclusion forced on us by the research carried out by the Galactic Society of Worlds.
Thus the normal experience of a star appears to consist in perception of its cosmical environment, along with continuous voluntary changes within its own body and in its position in relation to other stars. This change of position consists, of course, in rotation and passage. The star’s motor life is thus to be thought of almost as a life of dance, or of figure-skating, executed with perfect skill according to an ideal principle which emerges into consciousness from the depths of the stellar nature and becomes clearer as the star’s mind matures.
This ideal principle cannot be conceived by men save as it is manifested in practice as the well-known physical principle of “least action,” or the pursuit of that course which in all the gravitational and other conditions is the least extravagant. The star itself, by means of its purchase on the electromagnetic field of the cosmos, apparently wills and executes this ideal course with all the attention and delicacy of response which a motorist exercises in threading his way through traffic on a winding road, or a ballet-dancer in performing the most intricate movements with the greatest economy of effort. Almost certainly, the star’s whole physical behavior is normally experienced as a blissful, an ecstatic, an ever successful pursuit of formal beauty. This the minded worlds were able to discover through their own most formalistic aesthetic experience. In fact it was through this experience that they first made contact with stellar minds. But the actual perception of the aesthetic (or religious?) rightness of the mysterious canon, which the stars so earnestly accepted, remained far beyond the mental range of the minded worlds. They had to take it, so to speak, on trust. Clearly this aesthetic canon was in some way symbolical of some spiritual intuition that remained occult to the minded worlds.
The life of the individual star is not only a life of physical movement. It is also undoubtedly in some sense a cultural and a spiritual life. In some manner each star is aware of its fellow stars as conscious beings. This mutual awareness is probably intuitive and telepathic, though presumably it is also constantly supported by inference from observation of the behavior of others. From the psychological relations of star with star sprang a whole world of social experiences which were so alien to the minded worlds that almost nothing can be said of them.
There is perhaps some reason for believing that the free behavior of the individual star is determined not only by the austere canons of the dance but also by the social will to cooperate with others. Certainly the relation between stars is perfectly social. It reminded me of the relation between the performers in an orchestra, but an orchestra composed of persons wholly intent on the common task. Possibly, but not certainly, each star, executing its particular theme, is moved not only by the pure aesthetic or religious motive but also by a will to afford its partners every legitimate opportunity for self-expression. If so, the life of each star is experienced not only as the perfect execution of formal beauty but also as the perfect expression of love. It would, however, be unwise to attribute affection and comradeship to the stars in any human sense. The most that can safely be said, is that it would probably be more false to deny them affection for one another than to assert that they were, indeed, capable of love. Telepathic research suggested that the experience of the stars was through and through of a different texture from that of the minded worlds. Even to attribute to them thought or desire of any kind is probably grossly anthropomorphic, but it is impossible to speak of their experience in any other terms.
The mental life of a star is almost certainly a progress from an obscure infantile mentality to the discriminate consciousness of maturity. All stars, young and old, are mentally “angelic,” in that they all freely and joyfully will the “good will,” the pattern of right action so far as it is revealed to them; but the great tenuous young stars, though they perfectly execute their part in the galactic dance, would seem to be in some manner spiritually naive or childlike in comparison with their more experienced elders. Thus, though there is normally no such thing as sin among the stars, no deliberate choice of the course known to be wrong for the sake of some end known to be irrelevant, there is ignorance, and consequent aberration from the pattern of the ideal as revealed to stars of somewhat maturer mentality. But this aberration on the part of the young is itself apparently accepted by the most awakened class of the stars as itself a desirable factor in the dance pattern of the galaxy. From the point of view of natural science, as known to the minded worlds, the behavior of young stars is of course always an exact expression of their youthful nature; and the behavior of the elder stars an expression of their nature. But, most surprisingly, the physical nature of a star at any stage of its growth is in part an expression of the telepathic influence of other stars. This fact can never be detected by the pure physics of any epoch. Unwittingly scientists derive the inductive physical laws of stellar evolution from data which are themselves an expression not only of normal physical influences but also of the unsuspected psychical influence of star on star.
In early ages of the cosmos the first “generation” of stars had been obliged to find their way unhelped from infancy to maturity; but later “generations” were in some manner guided by the experience of their elders so that they should pass more quickly and more thoroughly from the obscure to the fully lucid consciousness of themselves as spirits, and of the spiritual universe in which they dwelt. Almost certainly, the latest stars to condense out of the primeval nebula advanced (or will advance) more rapidly than their elders had done; and throughout the stellar host it was believed that in due season the youngest stars, when they had attained maturity, would pass far beyond the loftiest spirit insight of their seniors. There is good reason to say that the two over-mastering desires of all stars are the desire to execute perfectly their part in the communal dance, and the desire to press forward to the attainment of full insight into the nature of the cosmos. The latter desire was the factor in stellar mentality which was most comprehensible to the minded worlds. The climax of a star’s life occurs when it has passed through the long period of its youth, during which it is what human astronomers call a “red giant.” At the close of this period it shrinks rapidly into the dwarf state in which our sun now is. This physical cataclysm seems to be accompanied by far-reaching mental changes. Henceforth, though the star plays a less dashing part in the dance-rhythms of the galaxy, it is perhaps more clearly and penetratingly conscious. It is interested less in the ritual of the stellar dance, more in its supposed spiritual significance. After this very long phase of physical maturity there comes another crisis. The star shrinks into the minute and the inconceivably dense condition in which our astronomers call it a “white dwarf.” Its mentality in the actual crisis proved almost impervious to the research of the minded worlds. It appeared to be a crisis of despair and of reorientated hope. Henceforth the stellar mind presents increasingly a strain of baffling and even terrifying negativity, an icy, an almost cynical aloofness, which, we suspected, was but the obverse of some dread rapture hidden from us. However that may be, the aged star still continues meticulously to fulfil its part in the dance, but its mood is deeply changed. The aesthetic fervors of youth, the more serene but earnest will of maturity, all maturity’s devotion to the active pursuit of wisdom, now fall away. Perhaps the star is henceforth content with its achievement, such as it is, and pleased simply to enjoy the surrounding universe with such detachment and insight as it has attained. Perhaps; but the minded worlds were never able to ascertain whether the aged stellar minded eluded their comprehension through sheer superiority of achievement or through some obscure disorder of the spirit. In this state of old age a star remains for a very long period, gradually losing energy, and mentally withdrawing into itself, until it sinks into an impenetrable trance of senility. Finally its light is extinguished and its tissues disintegrate in death. Henceforth it continues to sweep through space, but it does so unconsciously, and in a manner repugnant to its still conscious fellows.
Such, very roughly stated, would seem to be the normal life of the average star. But there are many varieties within the general type. For stars vary in original size and in composition, and probably in psychological impact upon their neighbors. One of the commonest of the eccentric types is the double star, two mighty globes of fire waltzing through space together, in some cases almost in contact. Like all stellar relations, these partnerships are perfect, are angelic. Yet it is impossible to be certain whether the members experience anything which could properly be called a sentiment of personal love, or whether they regard one another solely as partners in a common task. Research undoubtedly suggested that the two beings did indeed move on their winding courses in some kind of mutual delight, and delight of close cooperation in the measures of the galaxy. But love? It is impossible to say. In due season, with the loss of momentum, the two stars come into actual contact. Then, seemingly in an agonizing blaze of joy and pain, they merge. After a period of unconsciousness, the great new star generates new living tissues, and takes its place among the angelic company. The strange Cepheid variables proved the most baffling of all the stellar kinds. It seems that these and other variables of much longer period alternate mentally between fervor and quietism, in harmony with their physical rhythm. More than this it is impossible to say.
One event, which happens only to a small minority of the stars in the course of their dance-life, is apparently of great psychological importance. This is the close approach of two or perhaps three stars to one another, and the consequent projection of a filament from one toward another. In the moment of this “moth kiss,” before the disintegration of the filament and the birth of planets, each star probably experiences an intense but humanly unintelligible physical ecstasy. Apparently the stars which have been through this experience are supposed to have acquired a peculiarly vivid apprehension of the unity of body and spirit. The “virgin” stars, however, though unblessed by this wonderful adventure, seem to have no desire to infringe the sacred canons of the dance in order to contrive opportunities for such encounters. Each one of them is angelically content to play its allotted part, and to observe the ecstasy of those that fate has favored. To describe the mentality of stars is of course to describe the unintelligible by means of intelligible but falsifying human metaphors. This tendency is particularly serious in telling of the dramatic relations between the stars and the minded worlds, for under the stress of these relations the stars seem to have experienced for the first time emotions superficially like human emotions. So long as the stellar community was immune from interference by the minded worlds, every member of it behaved with perfect rectitude and had perfect bliss in the perfect expression of its own nature and of the common spirit. Even senility and death were accepted with calm, for they were universally seen to be involved in the pattern of existence; and what every star desired was not immortality, whether for itself or for the community, but the perfect fruition of stellar nature. But when at last the minded worlds, the planets, began to interfere appreciably with stellar energy and motion, a new and terrible and incomprehensible thing presumably entered into the experiences of the stars. The stricken ones found themselves caught in a distracting mental conflict. Through some cause which they themselves could not detect, they not merely erred but willed to err. In fact, they sinned. Even while they still adored the right, they chose the wrong.
I said that the trouble was unprecedented. This is not strictly true. Something not wholly unlike this public shame seems to have occurred in the private experience of nearly every star. But each sufferer succeeded in keeping his shame secret until either with familiarity it became tolerable or else its source was overcome. It was indeed surprising that beings whose nature was in many ways so alien and unintelligible should be in this one respect at least so startlingly “human.”
In the outer layers of young stars life nearly always appears not only in the normal manner but also in the form of parasites, minute independent organisms of fire, often no bigger than a cloud in the terrestrial air, but sometimes as large as the Earth itself. These “salamanders” either feed upon the welling energies of the star in the same manner as the star’s own organic tissues feed, or simply prey upon those tissues themselves. Here as elsewhere the laws of biological evolution come into force, and in time there may appear races of intelligent flame-like beings. Even when the salamandrian life does not reach this level, its effect on the star’s tissues may become evident to the star as a disease of its skin and sense organs, or even of its deeper tissues. It then experiences emotions not wholly unlike human fright and shame, and anxiously and most humanly guards its secret from the telepathic reach of its fellows.
The salamandrian races have never been able to gain mastery over their fiery worlds. Many of them succumb, soon or late, either to some natural disaster or to internecine strife or to the self-cleansing activities of their mighty host. Many others survive, but in a relatively harmless state, troubling their stars only with a mild irritation, and a faint shade of insincerity in all their dealings with one another. In the public culture of the stars the salamandrian pest was completely ignored. Each star believed itself to be the only sufferer and the only sinner in the galaxy. One indirect effect the pest did have on stellar thought. It introduced the idea of purity. Each star prized the perfection of the stellar community all the more by reason of its own secret experience of impurity.
When the minded planets began to tamper seriously with stellar energy and stellar orbits, the effect was not a private shame but a public scandal. It was patent to all observers that the culprit had violated the canons of the dance. The first aberrations were greeted with bewilderment and horror. Amongst the hosts of the virgin stars it was whispered that if the result of the much prized interstellar contacts, whence the natural planets had sprung, was in the end this shameful irregularity, probably the original experience itself had also been sinful. The erring stars protested that they were not sinners, but victims of some unknown influence from the grains which revolved about them. Yet secretly they doubted themselves. Had they long ago, in the ecstatic sweep of star to star, after all infringed the canon of the dance? They suspected, moreover, that in respect of the irregularities which were now creating this public scandal, they could, if they had willed firmly enough, have contained themselves, and preserved their true courses in spite of the irritants that had affected them.
Meanwhile the power of the minded planets increased. Suns were boldly steered to suit the purposes of their parasites. To the stellar population it seemed, of course, that these erring stars were dangerous lunatics. The crisis came, as I have already said, when the worlds projected their first messenger toward the neighboring galaxy. The hurtling star, terrified at its own maniac behavior, took the only retaliation that was known to it. It exploded into the “nova” state, and successfully destroyed its planets. From the orthodox stellar point of view this act was a deadly sin; for it was an impious interference with the divinely appointed order of a star’s life. But it secured the desired end, and was soon copied by other desperate stars. Then followed that age of horror which I have already described from the point of view of the Society of Worlds. From the stellar point of view it was no less terrible, for the condition of the stellar society soon became desperate. Gone was the perfection and beatitude of former days. “The City of God” had degenerated into a place of hatred, recrimination and despair. Hosts of the younger stars had become premature and embittered dwarfs, while the elders had mostly grown senile. The dance pattern had fallen into chaos. The old passion for the canons of the dance remained, but the conception of the canons was obscured. Spiritual life had succumbed to the necessity of urgent action. The passion for the progress of insight into the nature of the cosmos also remained, but insight itself was obscured. Moreover, the former naive confidence, common to young and mature alike, the certainty that the cosmos was perfect and that the power behind it was righteous, had given place to blank despair.
Such was the state of affairs when the minded worlds first attempted to make telepathic contact with the minded stars. I need not tell the stages by which mere contact was developed into a clumsy and precarious kind of communication. In time the stars must have begun to realize that they were at grips, not with mere physical forces, nor yet with fiends, but with beings whose nature, though so profoundly alien, was at bottom identical with their own. Our telepathic research obscurely sensed the amazement which spread throughout the stellar population. Two opinions, two policies, two parties seem to have gradually emerged.
One of these parties was convinced that the pretensions of the minded planets must be false, that beings whose history was compact of sin and strife and slaughter must be essentially diabolic, and that to parley with them was to court disaster. This party, at first in a majority, urged that the war should be continued till every planet had been destroyed.
The minority party clamored for peace. The planets, they affirmed, were seeking in their own way the very same goal as the stars. It was even suggested that these minute beings, with their more varied experience and their long acquaintance with evil, might have certain kinds of insight which the stars, those fallen angels, lacked. Might not the two sorts of being create together a glorious symbiotic society, and achieve together the end that was most dear to both, namely the full awakening of the spirit? It was a long while before the majority would listen to this counsel. Destruction continued. The precious energies of the galaxy were squandered. System after system of worlds was destroyed. Star after star sank into exhaustion and stupor. Meanwhile the Society of Worlds maintained a pacific attitude. No more stellar energy was tapped. No more stellar orbits were altered. No stars were artificially exploded.
Stellar opinion began to change. The crusade of extermination relaxed, and was abandoned. There followed a period of “isolationism” in which the stars, intent on repairing their shattered society, left their former enemies alone. Gradually a fumbling attempt at fraternizing began between the planets and their suns. The two kinds of beings, though so alien that they could not at all comprehend each other’s idiosyncrasies, were too lucid for mere tribal passions. They resolved to overcome all obstacles and enter into some kind of community. Soon it was the desire of every star to be girdled with artificial planets and enter into some sort of “sympsychic” partnership with its encircling companions. For it was by now clear to the stars that the “vermin” had much to give them. The experience of the two orders of beings was in many ways complementary. The stars retained still the tenor of the angelic wisdom of their golden age. The planets excelled in the analytic, the microscopic, and in that charity which was bred in them by knowledge of their own weak and suffering forbears. To the stars, moreover, it was perplexing that their minute companions could accept not merely with resignation but with joy a cosmos which evidently was seamed with evil.
In due season a symbiotic society of stars and planetary systems embraced the whole galaxy. But it was at first a wounded society, and ever after an impoverished galaxy. Few only of its million million stars were still in their prime. Every possible sun was now girdled with planets. Many dead stars were stimulated to disintegrate their atoms so as to provide artificial suns. Others were used in a more economical manner. Special races of intelligent organisms were bred or synthetized to inhabit the surfaces of these great worlds. Very soon, upon a thousand stars that once had blazed, teeming populations of innumerable types maintained an austere civilization. These subsisted on the volcanic energies of their huge worlds. Minute, artificially contrived worm-like creatures, they crept laboriously over the plains where oppressive gravitation allowed not so much as a stone to project above the general level. So violent, indeed, was gravitation, that even the little bodies of these worms might be shattered by a fall of half an inch. Save for artificial lighting, the inhabitants of the stellar worlds lived in eternal darkness, mitigated only by the starlight, the glow of volcanic eruption, and the phosphorescence of their own bodies. Their subterranean borings led down to the vast photosynthesis stations which converted the star’s imprisoned energy for the uses of life and of mind. Intelligence in these gigantic worlds was of course a function not of the separate individual but of the minded swarm. Like the insectoids, these little creatures, when isolated from the swarm, were mere instinctive animals, actuated wholly by the gregarious craving to return to the swarm.
The need to people the dead stars would not have arisen had not the war reduced the number of minded planets and the number of suns available for new planetary systems dangerously near the minimum required to maintain the communal life in full diversity. The Society of Worlds had been a delicately organized unity in which each element had a special function. It was therefore necessary, since the lost members could not be repeated, to produce new worlds to function in their places at least approximately.
Gradually the symbiotic society overcame the immense difficulties of reorganization, and began to turn its attention to the pursuit of that purpose which is the ultimate purpose of all awakened minds, the aim which they inevitably and gladly espouse because it is involved in their deepest nature. Henceforth the symbiotic society gave all its best attention to the further awakening of the spirit.
But this purpose, which formerly the angelic company of the stars and the ambitious Society of Worlds had each hoped to accomplish in relation not merely to the galaxy but to the cosmos, was now regarded more humbly. Both stars and worlds recognized that not merely the home galaxy but the cosmical swarm of galaxies was nearing its end. Physical energy, once a seemingly inexhaustible fund, was becoming less and less available for the maintenance of life. It was spreading itself more and more evenly over the whole cosmos. Only here and there and with difficulty could the minded organisms intercept it in its collapse from high to low potential. Very soon the universe would be physically senile. All ambitious plans had therefore to be abandoned. No longer was there any question of physical travel between the galaxies. Such enterprises would use up too many of the pence out of the few pounds of wealth that survived after the extravagance of former aeons. No longer was there any unnecessary coming and going, even within the galaxy itself. The worlds clung to their suns. The suns steadily cooled. And as they cooled, the encircling worlds contracted their orbits for warmth’s sake.
But though the galaxy was physically impoverished, it was in many ways Utopian. The symbiotic society of stars and worlds was perfectly harmonious. Strife between the two kinds was a memory of the remote past. Both were wholly loyal to the common purpose. They lived their personal lives in zestful cooperation, friendly conflict, and mutual interest. Each took part according to its capacity in the common task of cosmical exploration and appreciation. The stars were now dying off more rapidly than before, for the great host of the mature had become a great host of aged white dwarfs. As they died, they bequeathed their bodies to the service of the society, to be used either as reservoirs of sub-atomic energy, or as artificial suns, or as worlds to be peopled by intelligent populations of worms. Many a planetary system was now centered around an artificial sun. Physically the substitution was tolerable; but beings that had become mentally dependent on partnership with a living star regarded a mere furnace with despondency. Foreseeing the inevitable dissolution of the symbiosis throughout the galaxy, the planets were now doing all in their power to absorb the angelic wisdom of the stars. But after very few aeons the planets themselves had to begin reducing their number. The myriad worlds could no longer all crowd closely enough around their cooling suns. Soon the mental power of the galaxy, which had hitherto been with difficulty maintained at its highest pitch, must inevitably begin to wane.
Yet the temper of the galaxy was not sad but joyful. The symbiosis had greatly improved the art of telepathic communion; and now at last the many kinds of spirit which composed the galactic society were bound so closely in mutual insight that there had emerged out of their harmonious diversity a true galactic mind, whose mental reach surpassed that of the stars and the worlds as far as these surpassed their own individuals.
The galactic mind, which was but the mind of each individual star and world and minute organism in the worlds, enriched by all its fellows and awakened to finer percipience, saw that it had but a short time to live. Looking back through the ages of galactic history, down temporal vistas crowded with teeming and diversified populations, the mind of our galaxy saw that itself was the issue of untold strife and grief and hope frustrated. It confronted all the tortured spirits of the past not with pity or regret but with smiling content, such as a man may feel toward his own childhood’s tribulations. And it said, within the mind of each one of all its members, “Their suffering, which to them seemed barren evil, was the little price to be paid for my future coming. Right and sweet and beautiful is the whole in which these things happen. For I, I am the heaven in which all my myriad progenitors find recompense, finding their heart’s desire. For in the little time that is left me I shall press on, with all my peers throughout the cosmos, to crown the cosmos with perfect and joyful insight, and to salute the Maker of Galaxies and Stars and Worlds with fitting praise.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00