Chapter 11 STARS AND VERMIN

1. THE MANY GALAXIES

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.