3. A CRISIS IN GALACTIC HISTORY

Throughout this period of imperial expansion a few world-systems of a very high order, though less awakened than the Symbiotics of the sub-galaxy, had watched events telepathi-cally from afar. They saw the frontiers of empire advancing steadily toward them, and knew that they themselves would soon be implicated. They had the knowledge and power to defeat the enemy in war; they received desperate appeals for help; yet they did nothing. These were worlds that were organized through and through for peace and the activities proper to an awakened world. They knew that, if they chose to remake their whole social structure and reorientate their minds, they could ensure military victory. They knew also that they would thereby save many worlds from conquest, from oppression and from the possible destruction of all that was best in them. But they knew also that in reorganizing themselves for desperate warfare, in neglecting, for a whole age of struggle, all those activities which were proper to them, they would destroy the best in themselves more surely than the enemy would destroy it by oppression; and that in destroying this they would be murdering what they believed to be the most vital germ in the galaxy. They therefore forswore military action.

When at last one of these more developed world-systems was itself confronted by mad religious enthusiasts, the natives welcomed the invaders, readjusted all their planetary orbits to accommodate the in-coming planets, pressed the foreign power actually to settle part of its population in such of their own planets as afforded suitable climatic conditions; and secretly, gradually, subjected the whole mad race throughout the combined solar system to a course of telepathic hypnotism so potent that its communal mind was completely disintegrated. The invaders became mere uncoordinated individuals, such as we know on Earth. Henceforth they were bewildered, short-sighted, torn by conflicts, ruled by no supreme purpose, obsessed more by self than by community. It had been hoped that, when the mad communal mind had been abolished, the individuals of the invading race would soon be induced to open their eyes and their hearts to a nobler ideal. Unfortunately the telepathic skill of the superior race was not sufficient to delve down to the long-buried chrysalis of the spirit in these beings, to give it air and warmth and light. Since the individual nature of these forlorn individuals was itself the product of a crazy world, they proved incapable of salvation, incapable of sane community. They were therefore segregated to work out their own unlovely destiny in ages of tribal quarrels and cultural decline, ending in the extinction which inevitably overtakes creatures that are incapable of adaptation to new circumstances.

When several invading expeditions had been thus circumvented, there arose among the worlds of the mad United Empires a tradition that certain seemingly pacific worlds were in fact more dangerous than all other enemies, since plainly they had a strange power of “poisoning the soul.” The imperialists determined to annihilate these terrible opponents. The attacking forces were instructed to avoid all telepathic parley and blow the enemy to pieces at long range. This, it was found, could be most conveniently performed by exploding the sun of the doomed system. Stimulated by a potent ray, the atoms of the photosphere would start disintegrating, and the spreading fury would soon fling the star into the “nova” state, roasting all his planets.

It was our lot to witness the extraordinary calm, nay the exaltation and joy with which these worlds accepted the prospect of annihilation rather than debase themselves by resistance. Later we were to watch the strange events which saved this galaxy of ours from disaster. But first came tragedy.

From our observation points in the minds of the attackers and the attacked, we observed not once but three times the slaughter of races nobler than any that we had yet encountered by perverts whose own natural mental rank was almost as high. Three worlds, or rather systems of worlds, each possessed by a diversity of specialized races, we saw annihilated. From these doomed planets we actually observed the sun break out with tumultuous eruption, swelling hourly. We actually felt, through the bodies of our hosts, the rapidly increasing heat, and through their eyes the blinding light. We saw the vegetation wither, the seas begin to steam. We felt and heard the furious hurricanes which wrecked every structure and bowled the ruins before them. With awe and wonder we experienced something of that exaltation and inner peace with which the doomed angelic populations met their end. Indeed, it was this experienced angelic exaltation in the hour of tragedy that gave us our first clear insight into the most spiritual attitude to fate. The sheer bodily agony of the disaster soon became intolerable to us, so that we were forced to withdraw ourselves from those martyred worlds. But we left the doomed populations themselves accepting not only this torture but the annihilation of their glorious community with all its infinite hopes, accepting this bitterness as though it were not lethal but the elixir of immortality. Not till almost the close of our own adventure did we grasp for a moment the full meaning of this ecstasy.

It was strange to us that none of these three victims made any attempt to resist the attack. Indeed, not one inhabitant in any of these worlds considered for a moment the possibility of resistance. In every case the attitude to disaster seemed to express itself in such terms as these: “To retaliate would be to wound our communal spirit beyond cure. We choose rather to die. The theme of spirit that we have created must inevitably be broken short, whether by the ruthlessness of the invader or by our own resort to arms. It is better to be destroyed than to triumph in slaying the spirit. Such as it is, the spirit that we have achieved is fair; and it is indestructibly woven into the tissue of the cosmos. We die praising the universe in which at least such an achievement as ours can be. We die knowing that the promise of further glory outlives us in other galaxies. We die praising the Star Maker, the Star Destroyer.”