13

FIRE BOLT

Fire Bolt, after his talk with Bright Heart, had retired to his own much harassed region; and there he had set about inspiring and training a picked band of followers.

He said to them, "We are the instruments of fate. Our wills are the expression of mighty forces at work in the cosmos. Through us the new world will be founded. Hitherto, power has been with the masters, the oppressors. Inevitably they have exercised it in their own interests, not for the world. But now, power is no longer in their hands alone. The knowledge of mechanical power, the skill for using it, has passed to those whom the oppressors enslaved. They have only to will resolutely to overthrow the oppressors and create the new world. If they will it, it will happen; for power is theirs. And it is for us who do will it, and do understand the way in which fate is working, to show the oppressed their opportunity and lead them to victory."

This he said in season and out of season. And he kindled his followers with his own fire, and he trained them secretly in the technique of obtaining mechanical power from disintegrating nebular flesh, and in the use of it for locomotion and offence.

While he was doing this, he watched the career of Bright Heart. And when Bright Heart died, Fire Bolt said to his followers, "If we were all like him, there would be no need for revolution. Let us wait and see whether the example of his life changes the wills of nebulae, and brings the new world peaceably, as he hoped. It will not; but let us have proof that it will not, so that we may convince the oppressed peoples that there is nothing for it but to destroy their oppressors."

And when at last the oppressors had tricked the followers of Bright Heart, and the empires were once more at war, and the peoples were everywhere slaving to produce power or to defeat an enemy people, Fire Bolt sent his followers abroad to create more and ever more followers, until in every group, in every munition corps, in every troop of warriors, there was a follower of Fire Bolt, working for the revolution, stirring up discontent, whispering seditious truths, appointing to each convert a particular task in the worldwide preparation and in the worldwide revolution itself.

When all was ready, Fire Bolt gave the signal. Slowly it spread abroad upon the ethereal undulations from nebula to nebula. And as it passed, the conflagration which had been so carefully planned leapt into life. One by one, and with surprisingly little fighting, the peoples came into their own.

But the revolution did not spread throughout the cosmos. The remoter regions had not been well enough prepared. In some the people rose too late to surprise the masters, and after a desperate struggle were subdued. In some they were half-hearted, or did not rise at all. Rather less than a third of the population of the cosmos was set free by the revolution.

The peoples that had freed themselves now set about reorganizing their society, under the leadership of Fire Bolt. It was widely hoped that each nebula would now be allowed to go back to his native group and find full expression in the dance life of the group. For there was a widespread desire to express in significant dance forms all the cumulative passion of revolution. Many said to Fire Bolt, "Help us now at last to work out and establish the first measure of the cosmical dance pattern."

But Fire Bolt said, "The enemy outnumbers us by two to one, and will surely attack us. We must prepare for a very desperate war. But we shall win, and we shall free the enemy peoples, for we shall be strengthened by our great cause."

So the freed peoples freely submitted themselves to a very strict discipline. While there was yet time they drilled and practiced all the undertakings of war, and they piled up ammunition. And the enemy, seeing this, hastened their preparations. And the enemy rulers told their peoples that the revolutionary peoples had fallen into a worse servitude than before, that they were being cunningly and brutally used by their tyrants, that all glad beholding and dancing had vanished from them, and that Bright Heart, who watched from his heaven outside the cosmos, commanded all true believers to join together for the overthrow of that evil society.

The war which followed was lengthy and destructive; but, though outnumbered, the peoples of the revolution were in the end victorious. For they had faith, unity of purpose and Fire Bolt. One by one the enemy peoples either suffered defeat, or spontaneously broke out into revolution.

When the war was over, and all social nebulae throughout the cosmos had entered the revolutionary society as free citizens, everyone agreed that it was time to establish the cosmical dance pattern of all nebulae, which alone could afford every nebula the deepest aesthetic satisfaction, and was indeed the whole goal of nebular existence.

Innumerable voices enquired of Fire Bolt how this thing was to be done. Now Fire Bolt was no longer what he had once been. He had used himself up in the revolution, and he was desperately tired. Moreover a strange "crumbling disease" was beginning to attack him, a disease increasingly common among the minute "satellite" nebulae, and by now not wholly unknown among the normal nebulae. His outer tissues were disintegrating into minute dense grains of fiery gas, and where this had happened his flesh was as though it was no longer his own. He could not move it. He could not perceive with it. Fire Bolt, in fact, was growing old. He was beginning to pass over from being a nebula to being a globular cluster of stars, a minute galaxy. But inwardly he was still almost his old ardent self, though tired, utterly tired.

Now there were two views as to the kind of thing the cosmical dance pattern should be. According to one party it should be stately and restrained; and the course of each nebula should lie wholly within his own group. The cosmos should become a lovely pattern of distinct minuet figures. According to the other much larger party the cosmic dance must be far more violent. It must symbolize and commemorate by its far-flung measures the conflicts and agonies of the past. Only by an extravagance of swift intricate movement could it by potent suggestiveness waken the nebulae to a new order of percipience, intelligence and creative power. Moreover it was hoped that from the ecstasy born in every heart by means of this superb communal activity there might emerge an oversoul or single spirit of the cosmos, in whose exalted experience every individual nebula should participate.

Now the less violent dance program could be carried out wholly by means of the native energies of the dancers, but the other entailed a huge expenditure of mechanical power. This would have to be obtained, as formerly, by the sacrifice of the lone nebulae, for there was no other source of energy but the flesh of the nebulae themselves. The advocates of the less violent dance insisted that the office of the lone nebulae could not be merely to give their lives for fuel but to play their part consciously and joyfully in the dance. No cosmical dance pattern could be wholesome, or significant, or satisfying to any sensitive individual, if the greater part of the cosmical population had to be left out of it entirely and murdered for its support. Those world citizens who still accepted the teaching of Bright Heart dared to point out that their master had actually succeeded in awakening two of the lone nebulae to a sense of community. Surely it was a supreme duty to organize a worldwide mission to the lone nebulae, so as to emancipate them from their solipsistic prison cells, and kindle them with the gospel of community, and the holy zest of the cosmical dance.

But the other party would have none of this. They declared that the lone nebulae were mere brutes, cattle to be used up as seemed fitting to the community. The only right which could be claimed for them was the right to humane slaughter. All agreed that the supreme goal of existence was the creation of the cosmical dance pattern. After all then it was a kindness to the lone nebulae to enable them to contribute something important toward this end in the only way which was possible to them, namely by yielding up their flesh for fuel. Confident in their numbers and their realism, this party appealed to Fire Bolt to exercise his presidential fiat and forbid their opponents to disturb the harmony of the great cosmical undertaking by advocating their idealistic yet cowardly policy. Thinking to rouse his jealousy they added a suggestion that this heresy was a symptom of the widespread resurrection of the impracticable and sentimental ideals of Bright Heart.

But Fire Bolt, already fatigued by the effort of "listening" to their lengthy petition, replied in a manner wholly unexpected. "That great seer," he said, "erred only in having too good an opinion of nebular nature. He underestimated the weakness and stupidity of the peoples, and the self-regard of the oppressors. He thought the new world would be brought into being by the good will of all, not by the hate and courage of a few. But at bottom he was right. Though to overthrow the oppressors we had to do many terrible things and sacrifice many social and many lone nebulae, now that we have freed the world we must 'gladly behold' all nebulae, and dance with all nebulae, sacrificing none. I am sick and dying. You will remember me, for without me you could not have made the revolution. But more earnestly, more constantly, remember Bright Heart. For his work is still for you to do."

The petitioners departed in indignation, murmuring, "His mind is going." They tried hard to keep Fire Bolt's pronouncement from being made known, but the old sick nebula gathered his strength together to force his dying flesh to one last effort. One last, long impassioned speech he made, condemning the aims of the majority, pleading for the lone nebulae and for the unmechanized dance, and praising Bright Heart. Before he had said all that was in his mind to say, his speech organs were paralysed.

Not long afterward he lost all power of movement and of external perception. He became as one of the lone nebulae, though rich in precious memories of intercourse, memories of Bright Heart, of sedition, of revolution, and of the new world which he had founded. For a while his old spirit flickered on, imprisoned within an unresponsive dust of stars. And then he died.

But his last appeal spread slowly, irresistibly, upon the ethereal medium, and was passed on from nebula to nebula.

Chapter 14

Chapter 12

Nebula Maker Contents