2. THE SUPREME MOMENT NEARS

The discovery of nebular life deeply moved the incipient cosmical mind that I had become. Patiently I studied those almost formless megatheria, absorbing into my own composite being the fervor of their simple but deep-running nature. For these simple creatures sought their goal with a single-mindedness and passion eclipsing all the worlds and stars. With such earnest imagination did I enter into their history that I myself, the cosmical mind, was in a manner remade by contemplation of these beings. Considering from the nebular point of view the vast complexity and subtlety of the living worlds, I began to wonder whether the endless divagations of the worlds were really due so much to richness of being as to weakness of spiritual perception, so much to the immensely varied potentiality of their nature as to sheer lack of any intense controlling experience. A compass needle that is but feebly magnetized swings again and again to west and east, and takes long to discover its proper direction. One that is more sensitive will settle immediately toward the north. Had the sheer complexity of every world, with its host of minute yet complex members, merely confused its sense of the proper direction of all spirit? Had the simplicity and spiritual vigor of the earliest, hugest beings achieved something of highest value that the complexity and subtlety of the worlds could never achieve?

But no! Excellent as the nebular mentality was, in its own strange way, the stellar and the planetary mentalities had also their special virtues. And of all three the planetary must be most prized, since it could best comprehend all three.

I now allowed myself to believe that I, since I did at last include in my own being an intimate awareness not only of many galaxies but also of the first phase of cosmical life, might now with some justice regard myself as the incipient mind of the cosmos as a whole.

But the awakened galaxies that supported me were still only a small minority of the total population of galaxies. By telepathic influence I continued to help on those many galaxies that were upon the threshold of mental maturity. If I could include within the cosmical community of awakened galaxies some hundreds instead of a mere score of members, perhaps I myself, the communal mind, might be so strengthened as to rise from my present state of arrested mental infancy to something more like maturity. It was clear to me that even now, in my embryonic state, I was ripening for some new elucidation; and that with good fortune I might yet find myself in the presence of that which, in the human language of this book, has been called the Star Maker.

At this time my longing for that presence had become an overmastering passion. It seemed to me that the veil which still hid the source and goal of all nebulae and stars and worlds was already dissolving. That which had kindled so many myriad beings to worship, yet had clearly revealed itself to none, that toward which all beings had blindly striven, representing it to themselves by the images of a myriad divinities, was now, I felt, on the point of revelation to me, the marred but still growing spirit of the cosmos.

I who had myself been worshipped by hosts of my little members, I whose achievement reached far beyond their dreams, was now oppressed, overwhelmed, by the sense of my own littleness and imperfection. For the veiled presence of the Star Maker already overmastered me with dreadful power. The further I ascended along the path of the spirit, the loftier appeared the heights that lay before me. For what I had once thought to be the summit fully revealed was now seen to be a mere foot-hill. Beyond lay the real ascent, steep, cragged, glacial, rising into the dark mist. Never, never should I climb that precipice. And yet I must go forward. Dread was overcome by irresistible craving.

Meanwhile under my influence the immature galaxies one by one attained that pitch of lucidity which enabled them to join the cosmical community and enrich me with their special experience. But physically the enfeeblement of the cosmos continued. By the time that half the total population of galaxies had reached maturity it became clear that few more would succeed.

Of living stars, very few were left in any galaxy. Of the host of dead stars, some, subjected to atomic disintegration, were being used as artificial suns, and were surrounded by many thousands of artificial planets. But the great majority of the stars were now encrusted, and themselves peopled. After a while it became necessary to evacuate all planets, since the artificial suns were too extravagant of energy. The planet-dwelling races therefore one by one destroyed themselves, bequeathing the material of their worlds and all their wisdom to the inhabitants of the extinguished stars. Henceforth the cosmos, once a swarm of blazing galaxies, each a swarm of stars, was composed wholly of star-corpses. These dark grains drifted through the dark void, like an infinitely tenuous smoke rising from an extinguished fire. Upon these motes, these gigantic worlds, the ultimate populations had created here and there with their artificial lighting a pale glow, invisible even from the innermost ring of lifeless planets.

By far the commonest type of being in these stellar worlds was the intelligent swarm of minute worms or insectoids. But there were also many races of larger creatures of a very curious kind adapted to the prodigious gravitation of their giant worlds. Each of these creatures was a sort of living blanket. Its under surface bore a host of tiny legs that were also mouths. These supported a body that was never more than an inch thick, though it might be as much as a couple of yards wide and ten yards long. At the forward end the manipulatory “arms” traveled on their own battalions of legs. The upper surface of the body contained a honeycomb of breathing-pores and a great variety of sense organs. Between the two surfaces spread the organs of metabolism and the vast area of brain. Compared with the worm-swarms and insect-swarms, these tripe-like beings had the advantage of more secure mental unity and greater specialization of organs; but they were more cumbersome, and less adapted to the subterranean life which was later to be forced on all populations.

The huge dark worlds with their immense weight of atmosphere and their incredible breadths of ocean, where the waves even in the most furious storms were never more than ripples such as we know on quicksilver, were soon congested with the honeycomb civilizations of worms and insectoids of many species, and the more precarious shelters of the tripe-like creatures. Life on these worlds was almost like life in a two-dimensional “flat-land.” Even the most rigid of the artificial elements was too weak to allow of lofty structures.

As time advanced, the internal heat of the encrusted stars was used up, and it became necessary to support civilization by atomic disintegration of the star’s rocky core. Thus in time each stellar world became an increasingly hollow sphere supported by a system of great internal buttresses. One by one the populations, or rather the new and specially adapted descendants of the former populations, retired into the interiors of the burnt-out stars.

Each imprisoned in its hollow world, and physically isolated from the rest of the cosmos, these populations telepa-thically supported the cosmical mind. These were my flesh. In the inevitable “expansion” of the universe, the dark galaxies had already for aeons been flying apart so rapidly that light itself could not have bridged the gulf between them. But this prodigious disintegration of the cosmos was of less account to the ultimate populations than the physical insulation of star from star through the cessation of all stellar radiation and all interstellar travel. The many populations, teeming in the galleries of the many worlds, maintained their telepathic union. Intimately they knew one another in all their diversity. Together they supported the communal mind, withall its awareness of the whole vivid, intricate past of the cosmos, and its tireless effort to achieve its spiritual goal before increase of entropy should destroy the tissue of civilizations in which it inhered.

Such was the condition of the cosmos when it approached the supreme moment of its career, and the illumination toward which all beings in all ages had been obscurely striving. Strange it was that these latter-day populations, cramped and impoverished, counting their past pence of energy, should achieve the task that had defeated the brilliant hosts of earlier epochs. Theirs was indeed the case of the wren that outsoared the eagle. In spite of their straitened circumstances they were still able to maintain the essential structure of a cosmical community, and a cosmical mentality. And with native insight they could use the past to deepen their wisdom far beyond the range of any past wisdom. The supreme moment of the cosmos was not (or will not be) a moment by human standards; but by cosmical standards it was indeed a brief instant. When little more than half the total population of many million galaxies had entered fully into the cosmical community, and it was clear that no more were to be expected, there followed a period of universal meditation. The populations maintained their straitened Utopian civilizations, lived their personal lives of work and social intercourse, and at the same time, upon the communal plane, refashioned the whole structure of cosmical culture. Of this phase I shall say nothing. Suffice it that to each galaxy and to each world was assigned a special creative mental function, and that all assimilated the work of all. At the close of this period I, the communal mind, emerged re-made, as from a chrysalis; and for a brief moment, which was indeed the supreme moment of the cosmos, I faced the Star Maker.

For the human author of this book there is now nothing left of that age-long, that eternal moment which I experienced as the cosmical mind, save the recollection of a bitter beatitude, together with a few incoherent memories of the experience itself which fired me with that beatitude.

Somehow I must tell something of that experience. Inevitably I face the task with a sense of abysmal incompetence. The greatest minds of the human race through all the ages of human history have failed to describe their moments of deepest insight. Then how dare I attempt this task? And yet I must. Even at the risk of well-merited ridicule and contempt and moral censure, I must stammer out what I have seen. If a shipwrecked seaman on his raft is swept helplessly past marvelous coasts and then home again, he cannot hold his peace. The cultivated may turn away in disgust at his rude accent and clumsy diction. The knowing may laugh at his failure to distinguish between fact and illusion. But speak he must.