4. GALACTIC SYMBIOSIS

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. Nolonger 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.”