2. IN MUNDANE STRIFE

Of the busy Utopias which I have been describing, a few were already established even before the birth of the Other Earth, a larger number flourished before our own planet was formed, but many of the most important of these worlds are temporally located in an age far future to us, an age long after the destruction of the final human race. Casualties among these awakened worlds are of course much less common than among more lowly and less competent worlds. Consequently, though fatal accidents occurred in every epoch, the number of awakened worlds in our galaxy steadily increased as time advanced. The actual births of planets, due to the chance encounters of mature but not aged stars, reached (or will reach) a maximum fairly late in the history of our galaxy, and then declined. But since the fluctuating progress of a world from bare animality to spiritual maturity takes, on the average, several thousands of millions of years, the maximum population of Utopian and fully awakened worlds occurred very late, when physically the galaxy was already somewhat past its prime. Further, though even in early epochs the few awakened worlds did sometimes succeed in making contact with one another, either by interstellar travel or by telepathy, it was not till a fairly late stage of galactic history that intermundane relations came to occupy the main attention of the wakened worlds.

Throughout the progress of a waking world there was one grave, subtle, and easily overlooked danger. Interest might be “fixated” upon some current plane of endeavor, so that no further advance could occur. It may seem strange that beings whose psychological knowledge so far surpassed the attainment of man should have been trapped in this manner. Apparently at every stage of mental development, save the highest of all, the mind’s growing point is tender and easily misdirected. However this may be, it is a fact that a few rather highly developed worlds, even with communal mentality, were disastrously perverted in a strange manner, which I find very difficult to understand. I can only suggest that in them, seemingly, the hunger for true community and true mental lucidity itself became obsessive and perverse, so that the behavior of these exalted perverts might deteriorate into something very like tribalism and religious fanaticism. The disease would soon lead to the stifling of all elements which seemed recalcitrant to the generally accepted culture of the world-society. When such worlds mastered interstellar travel, they might conceive a fanatical desire to impose their own culture throughout the galaxy. Sometimes their zeal became so violent that they were actually driven to wage ruthless religious wars on all who resisted them.

Obsessions derived from one stage or another of the progress toward Utopia and lucid consciousness, even if they did not bring violent disaster, might at any stage side-track the waking world into futility. Superhuman intelligence, courage, and constancy on the part of the devoted individuals might be consecrated to misguided and unworthy world purposes. Thus it was that, in extreme cases, even a world that remained socially Utopian and mentally a super-individual, might pass beyond the bounds of sanity. With a gloriously healthy body and an insane mind it might do terrible harm to its neighbors.

Such tragedy did not become possible till after interplanetary and interstellar travel had been well established. Long ago, in an early phase of the galaxy, the number of planetary systems had been very small, and only half a dozen worlds had attained Utopia. These were scattered up and down the galaxy at immense distances from one another. Each lived its life in almost complete isolation, relieved only by precarious telepathic intercourse with its peers. In a somewhat later but still early period, when these eldest children of the galaxy had perfected their society and their biological nature, and were on the threshold of super-individuality, they turned their attention to interplanetary travel. First one and then another achieved rocket-flight in space, and succeeded in breeding specialized populations for the colonization of neighboring planets. In a still later epoch, the middle period of galactic history, there were many more planetary systems than in the earlier ages, and an increasing number of intelligent worlds were successfully emerging from the great psychological crisis which so many worlds never surmount. Meanwhile some of the elder “generation” of awakened worlds were already facing the immensely difficult problems of travel on the interstellar and not merely the interplanetary scale. This new power inevitably changed the whole character of galactic history. Hitherto, in spite of tentative telepathic exploration on the part of the most awakened worlds, the life of the galaxy had been in the main the life of a number of isolated worlds which took no effect upon one another. With the advent of interstellar travel the many distinct themes of the world-biographies gradually became merged in an all-embracing drama.

Travel within a planetary system was at first carried out by rocket-vessels propelled by normal fuels. In all the early ventures one great difficulty had been the danger of collision with meteors. Even the most efficient vessel, most skillfully navigated and traveling in regions that were relatively free from these invisible and lethal missiles, might at any moment crash and fuse. The trouble was not overcome till means had been found to unlock the treasure of sub-atomic energy. It was then possible to protect the ship by means of a far-flung envelope of power which either diverted or exploded the meteors at a distance. A rather similar method was with great difficulty devised to protect the space ships and their crews from the constant and murderous hail of cosmic radiation.

Interstellar, as opposed to interplanetary, travel was quite impossible until the advent of sub-atomic power. Fortunately this source of power was seldom gained until late in a world’s development, when mentality was mature enough to wield this most dangerous of all physical instruments without inevitable disaster. Disasters, however, did occur. Several worlds were accidentally blown to pieces. In others civilization was temporarily destroyed. Sooner or later, however, most of the minded worlds tamed this formidable djin, and set it to work upon a titanic scale, not only in industry, but in such great enterprises as the alteration of planetary orbits for the improvement of climate. This dangerous and delicate process was effected by firing a gigantic sub-atomic rocket-apparatus at such times and places that the recoil would gradually accumulate to divert the planet’s course in the desired direction.

Actual interstellar voyaging was first effected by detaching a planet from its natural orbit by a series of well-timed and well-placed rocket impulsions, and thus projecting it into outer space at a speed far greater than the normal planetary and stellar speeds. Something more than this was necessary, since life on a sunless planet would have been impossible. For short interstellar voyages the difficulty was sometimes overcome by the generation of sub-atomic energy from the planet’s own substance; but for longer voyages, lasting for many thousands of years, the only method was to form a small artificial sun, and project it into space as a blazing satellite of the living world. For this purpose an uninhabited planet would be brought into proximity with the home planet to form a binary system. A mechanism would then be contrived for the controlled disintegration of the atoms of the lifeless planet, to provide a constant source of light and heat. The two bodies, revolving round one another, would be launched among the stars.

This delicate operation may well seem impossible. Had I space to describe the age-long experiments and world-wrecking accidents which preceded its achievement, perhaps the reader’s incredulity would vanish. But I must dismiss in a few sentences whole protracted epics of scientific adventure and personal courage. Suffice it that, before the process was perfected, many a populous world was either cast adrift to freeze in space, or was roasted by its own artificial sun.

The stars are so remote from one another that we measure their distances in light years. Had the voyaging worlds traveled only at speeds comparable with those of the stars themselves, even the shortest of interstellar voyages would have lasted for many millions of years. But since interstellar space offers almost no resistance to a traveling body, and therefore momentum is not lost, it was possible for the voyaging world, by prolonging the original rocket-impulsion for many years, to increase its speed far beyond that of the fastest star. Indeed, though even the early voyages by heavy natural planets were by our standards spectacular, I shall have to tell at a later stage of voyages by small artificial planets traveling at almost half the speed of light. Owing to certain “relativity effects” it was impossible to accelerate beyond this point. But even such a rate of travel made voyages to the nearer stars well worth undertaking if any other planetary system happened to lie within this range. It must be remembered that a fully awakened world had no need to think in terms of such short periods as a human lifetime. Though its individuals might die, the minded world was in a very important sense immortal.

It was accustomed to lay its plans to cover periods of many million years.

In early epochs of the galaxy expeditions from star to star were difficult, and rarely successful. But at a later stage, when there were already many thousands of worlds inhabited by intelligent races, and hundreds that had passed the Utopian stage, a very serious situation arose. Interstellar travel was by now extremely efficient. Immense exploration vessels many miles in diameter, were constructed out in space from artificial materials of extreme rigidity and lightness. These could be projected by rocket action and with cumulative acceleration till their speed was almost half the speed of light. Even so, the journey from end to end of the galaxy could not be completed under two hundred thousand years. However, there was no reason to undertake so long a voyage. Few voyages in seach of suitable systems lasted for more than a tenth of that time. Many were much shorter. Races that had attained and secured a communal consciousness would not hesitate to send out a number of such expeditions. Ultimately they might project their planet itself across the ocean of space to settle in some remote system recommended by the pioneers.

The problem of interstellar travel was so enthralling that it sometimes became an obsession even to a fairly well-developed Utopian world. This could only occur if in the constitution of that world there was something unwholesome, some secret and unfulfilled hunger impelling the beings. The race might then become travel-mad.

Its social organization would be refashioned and directed with Spartan strictness to the new communal undertaking. All its members, hypnotized by the common obsession, would gradually forget the life of intense personal intercourse and of creative mental activity which had hitherto been their chief concern. The whole venture of the spirit, exploring the universe and its own nature with critical intelligence and delicate sensibility, would gradually come to a standstill. The deepest roots of emotion and will, which in the fully sane awakened world were securely within the range of introspection, would become increasingly obscured. Less and less, in such a world, could the unhappy communal mind understand itself. More and more it pursued its phantom goal. Any attempt to explore the galaxy telepathically was now abandoned. The passion of physical exploration assumed the guise of a religion. The communal mind persuaded itself that it must at all costs spread the gospel of its own culture throughout the galaxy. Though culture itself was vanishing, the vague idea of culture was cherished as a justification of world-policy.

Here I must check myself, lest I give a false impression. It is necessary to distinguish sharply between the mad worlds of comparatively low mental development and those of almost the highest order. The humbler kinds might become crudely obsessed by sheer mastery or sheer travel, with its scope for courage and discipline. More tragic was the case of those few very much more awakened worlds whose obsession was seemingly for community itself and mental lucidity itself, and the propagation of the kind of community and the special mode of lucidity most admired by themselves. For then travel was but the means to cultural and religious empire.

I have spoken as though I were confident that these formidable worlds were indeed mad, aberrant from the line of mental and spiritual growth. But their tragedy lay in the fact that, though to their opponents they seemed to be either mad or at heart wicked, to themselves they appeared superbly sane, practical, and virtuous. There were times when we ourselves, the bewildered explorers, were almost persuaded that this was the truth. Our intimate contact with them was such as to give us insight, so to speak, into the inner sanity of their insanity, or the core of rightness in their wickedness. This insanity or wickedness I have to describe in terms of simple human craziness and vice; but in truth it was in a sense superhuman, for it included the perversion of faculties above the range of human sanity and virtue.

When one of these “mad” worlds encountered a sane world, it would sincerely express the most reasonable and kindly intentions. It desired only cultural intercourse, and perhaps economic cooperation. Little by little it would earn the respect of the other for its sympathy, its splendid social order, and its dynamic purpose. Each world would regard the other as a noble, though perhaps an alien and partly incomprehensible, instrument of the spirit. But little by little the normal world would begin to realize that in the culture of the “mad” world there were certain subtle and far-reaching intuitions that appeared utterly false, ruthless, aggressive, and hostile to the spirit, and were the dominant motives of its foreign relations. The “mad” world, meanwhile, would regretfully come to the conclusion that the other was after all gravely lacking in sensibility, that it was obtuse to the very highest values and most heroic virtues, in fact that its whole life was subtly corrupt, and must, for its own sake, be changed, or else destroyed. Thus each world, though with lingering respect and affection, would sadly condemn the other. But the mad world would not be content to leave matters thus. It would at length with holy fervor attack, striving to destroy the other’s pernicious culture, and even exterminate its population. It is easy for me now, after the event, after the final spiritual downfall of these mad worlds, to condemn them as perverts, but in the early stages of their drama we were often desperately at a loss to decide on which side sanity lay.

Several of the mad worlds succumbed to their own fool-hardiness in navigation. Others, under the strain of age-long research, fell into social neurosis and civil strife. A few, however, succeeded in attaining their end, and after voyages lasting for thousands of years were able to reach some neighboring planetary system. The invaders were often in a desperate plight. Generally they had used up most of the material of their little artificial sun. Economy had forced them to reduce their ration of heat and light so far that when at last they discovered a suitable planetary system their native world was almost wholly arctic. On arrival, they would first take up their position in a suitable orbit and, perhaps spend some centuries in recuperating. Then they would explore the neighboring worlds, seek out the most hospitable, and begin to adapt themselves or their descendants to life upon it. If, as was often the case, any of the planets was already inhabited by intelligent beings, the invaders would inevitably come sooner or later into conflict with them, either in a crude manner over the right to exploit a planet’s resources, or more probably over the invaders’ obsession for propagating their own culture. For by now the civilizing mission, which was the ostensible motive of all their heroic adventures, would have become a rigid obsession. They would be quite incapable of conceiving that the native civilization, though less developed than their own, might be more suited to the natives. Nor could they realize that their own culture, formerly the expression of a gloriously awakened world, might have sunk, in spite of their mechanical powers and crazy religious fervor, below the simpler culture of the natives in all the essentials of mental life.

Many a desperate defense did we see, carried out by some world of the lowly rank of Homo sapiens against a race of mad supermen, armed not only with the invincible power of sub-atomic energy but with overwhelmingly superior intelligence, knowledge, and devotion, and moreover with the immense advantage that all its individuals participated in the unified mind of the race. Though we had come to cherish above all things the advancement of mentality, and were therefore prejudiced in favor of the awakened though perverted invaders, our sympathies soon became divided, and then passed almost wholly to the natives, however barbaric their culture. For in spite of their stupidity, their ignorance, and superstition, their endless internecine conflicts, their spiritual obtuseness and grossness, we recognized in them a power which the others had forfeited, a naive but balanced wisdom, an animal shrewdness, a spiritual promise. The invaders, on the other hand, however brilliant, were indeed perverts. Little by little we came to regard the conflict as one in which an untamed but promising urchin had been set upon by an armed religious maniac.

When the invaders had exploited every world in the new-found planetary system, they would again feel the lust of proselytization. Persuading themselves that it was their duty to advance their religious empire throughout the galaxy, they would detach a couple of planets and dispatch them into space with a crew of pioneers. Or they would break up the whole planetary system, and scatter it abroad with missionary zeal. Occasionally their travel brought them into contact with another race of mad superiors. Then would follow a war in which one side or the other, or possibly both, would be exterminated.

Sometimes the adventurers came upon worlds of their own rank which had not succumbed to the mania of religious empire. Then the natives, though they would at first meet the invaders with courtesy and reason, would gradually realize that they were confronted with lunatics. They themselves would hastily convert their civilization for warfare. The issue would depend on superiority of weapons and military cunning; but if the contest was long and grim, the natives, even if victorious, might be so damaged mentally by an age of warfare that they would never recover their sanity.

Worlds that suffered from the mania of religious imperialism would seek interstellar travel long before economic necessity forced it upon them. The saner world-spirits, on the other hand, often discovered sooner or later a point beyond which increased material development and increased population were unnecessary for the exercise of their finer capacities. These were content to remain within their native planetary systems, in a state of economic and social stability. They were thus able to give most of their practical intelligence to tele-pathic exploration of the universe. Telepathic intercourse between worlds was now becoming much more precise and reliable. The galaxy had emerged from the primitive stage when any world could remain solitary, and live out its career in splendid isolation. In fact, just as, in the experience of Homo sapiens, the Earth is now “shrinking” to the dimensions of a country, so, in this critical period of the life of our galaxy, the whole galaxy was “shrinking” to the dimensions of a world. Those world spirits that had been most successful in telepathic exploration had by now constructed a fairly accurate “mental map” of the whole galaxy, though there still remained a number of eccentric worlds with which no lasting contact could yet be made. There was also one very advanced system of worlds, which had mysteriously “faded out” of telepathic intercourse altogether. Of this I shall tell more in the sequel.

The telepathic ability of the mad worlds and systems was by now greatly reduced. Though they were often under telepathic observation by the more mature world spirits, and were even influenced to some extent, they themselves were so self-complacent that they cared not to explore mental life of the galaxy. Physical travel and sacred imperial power were for them good enough means of intercourse with the surrounding universe.

In time there grew up several great rival empires of the mad worlds, each claiming to be charged with some sort of divine mission for the unifying and awakening of the whole galaxy. Between the ideologies of these empires there was little to choose, yet each was opposed to the others with religious fervor. Germinating in regions far apart, these empires easily mastered any sub-utopian worlds that lay within reach. Thus they spread from one planetary system to another, till at last empire made contact with empire.

Then followed wars such as had never before occurred in our galaxy. Fleets of worlds, natural and artificial, maneu-vered among the stars to outwit one another, and destroyed one another with long-range jets of sub-atomic energy. As the tides of battle swept hither and thither through space, whole planetary systems were annihilated. Many a world-spirit found a sudden end. Many a lowly race that had no part in the strife was slaughtered in the celestial warfare that raged around it. Yet so vast is the galaxy that these intermundane wars, terrible as they were, could at first be regarded as rare accidents, mere unfortunate episodes in the triumphant march of civilization. But the disease spread. More and more of the sane worlds, when they were attacked by the mad empires, reorganized themselves for military defense. They were right in believing that the situation was one with which non-violence alone could not cope; for the enemy, unlike any possible group of human beings, was too thoroughly purged of “humanity” to be susceptible to sympathy. But they were wrong in hoping that arms could save them. Even though, in the ensuing war, the defenders might gain victory in the end, the struggle was generally so long and devastating that the victors themselves were irreparably damaged in spirit.

In a later and perhaps the most terrible phase of our galaxy’s life I was forcibly reminded of the state of bewilderment and anxiety that I had left behind me on the Earth. Little by little the whole galaxy, some ninety thousand light-years across, containing more than thirty thousand million stars, and (by this date) over a hundred thousand planetary systems, and actually thousands of intelligent races, was paralyzed by the fear of war, and periodically tortured by its outbreak.

In one respect, however, the state of the galaxy was much more desperate than the state of our little world to-day. None of our nations is an awakened super-individual. Even those peoples which are suffering from the mania of herd glory are composed of individuals who in their private life are sane. A change of fortune might perhaps drive such a people into a less crazy mood. Or skilful propaganda for the idea of human unity might turn the scale. But in this grim age of the galaxy the mad worlds were mad almost down to the very roots of their being. Each was a super-individual whose whole physical and mental constitution, including the unit bodies and minds of its private members, was by now organized through and through for a mad purpose. There seemed to be no more possibility of appealing to the stunted creatures to rebel against the sacred and crazy purpose of their race than of persuading the individual brain-cells of a maniac to make a stand for gentleness. To be alive in those days in one of the worlds that were sane and awakened, though not of the very highest, most percipient order, was to feel (or will be to feel) that the plight of the galaxy was desperate. These average sane worlds had organized themselves into a League to resist aggression; but since they were far less developed in military organization than the mad worlds, and much less inclined to subject their individual members to military despotism, they were at a great disadvantage.

Moreover, the enemy was now united; for one empire had secured complete mastery over the others, and had inspired all the mad worlds with an identical passion of religious imperialism. Though the “United Empires” of the mad worlds included only a minority of the worlds of the galaxy, the sane worlds had no hope of a speedy victory; for they were disunited, and unskilled in warfare. Meanwhile war was undermining the mental life of the League’s own members. The urgencies and horrors were beginning to blot out from their minds all the more delicate, more developed capacities. They were becoming less and less capable of those activities of personal intercourse and cultural adventure which they still forlornly recognized as the true way of life. The great majority of the worlds of the League, finding themselves caught up in a trap from which, seemingly, there was no escape, came despairingly to feel that the spirit which they had thought divine, the spirit which seeks true community and true awakening, was after all not destined to triumph, and therefore not the essential spirit of the cosmos. Blind chance, it was rumored, ruled all things; or perhaps a diabolic intelligence. Some began to conceive that the Star Maker had created merely for the lust of destroying. Undermined by this terrible surmise, they themselves sank far toward madness. With horror they imagined that the enemy was indeed, as he claimed, the instrument of divine wrath, punishing them for their own impious will to turn the whole galaxy, the whole cosmos, into a paradise of generous and fully awakened beings. Under the influence of this growing sense of ultimate satanic power and the even more devastating doubt of the rightness of their own ideals, the League members despaired. Some surrendered to the enemy. Others succumbed to internal discord, losing their mental unity. The war of the worlds seemed likely to end in the victory of the insane. And so, indeed, it would have done, but for the interference of that remote and brilliant system of worlds which, as was mentioned above, had for a long while withdrawn itself from telepathic intercourse with the rest of our galaxy. This was the system of worlds which had been founded in the spring-time of the galaxy by the symbiotic Ichthyoids and Arachnoids.