8

THE MARTIAL GROUPS

In most nebular societies, at one time or other in their career, conflict between opposed parties would flare up into actual warfare. One side would seek to overcome the other either by bombarding their most vulnerable organs with concentrated radiation, or by actually grappling with them and striving to tear them into fragments.

It is difficult to give any idea of the horror with which I observed these battles. Superficially the spectacle was nothing but a confused tempest of whirling gas clouds in the depths of space; but to me, who had by now learned the emotional significance of all these changing shapes, to me who moreover could experience at first hand the agony of these torn tresses and shattered cores, the spectacle was no less nerve-racking than the sight of human bodies dismembered by shellfire.

Though not wholly unknown among the normal groups, war was a comparatively rare disaster. But there was one very remarkable kind of group in which fighting was perennial, and indeed essential to the group life. A permanent peace would have brought about a far-reaching degeneration of the individual character and the end of all social feeling, which in these groups could never assume any form but that of the comradeship of brothers-in-arms, opposed by a common foe.

This state of affairs was the result of causes in the remote past. Sometimes the group was in origin a composite of two groups which had collided long ago in the time when the nebulae were still young and mentally unformed. Whatever the cause, the individuals in these martial groups had specialized little by little both physically and mentally for combat. If combat was long denied them, they tended to become morbidly depressed; and ultimately each would succumb to serious mental disorder, snatching a crazy gratification for its pugnacity from the internal conflict of its own dissociated personalities.

In these curiously bellicose communities there sometimes arose a truly astounding culture unlike anything known on earth, though containing suggestions of mediaeval chivalry and modern sport. The opposing forces would be precisely matched, each individual of one troop having a special opponent in the other. Though each warrior might on occasion fight any member of the enemy force, one particular enemy was his peculiar property, his "dear enemy." In combat with this individual he not only rose to the extreme of fury or cold hate, but also he attained a unique exaltation which might almost as well be called love as hate, since it included, along with the lust to destroy, a chivalrous and passionate admiration of the foe. This strange movement of the spirit was accompanied at its height by a violent physical orgasm which ejaculated a murderous flood of radiation into the body of the enemy and reduced the subject himself to exhaustion.

In these martial groups there was often a very complicated etiquette of war, meticulously respected by both sides. Life in such a group consisted of personal combats, general warfare, and spells of highly militarised peace. Combats had always a ritual element in them, and were of many degrees of seriousness, from the ceremonial joust to the death struggle. Even the most lethal fighting was terpsichorean in intention, reminiscent at once of the ballroom and the ballet, the football match and the boxing ring, the gladiatorial show, the bullfight, and the sadistic rituals of primitive human societies.

Though the strife was strictly regulated and sincerely aesthetic, it was definitely lethal in intention. In the earlier stages of nebular evolution the opposing warriors could do little serious hurt to one another, but as they advanced in knowledge of physical nature they discovered how to utilize in combat some of the lavish excess of radiation which was constantly issuing from their cores and wasting itself in the void. By damming the flow, and then releasing it in concentrated and focused beams they were able to do one another grievous hurt. The side which was first in the field with the new weapon was duly execrated by the enemy, who then hastened to adopt the same device. Very soon the etiquette of the group Was modified to accommodate it, and war went smoothly on, till some fresh improvement was discovered. This, in turn, was execrated and adopted.

Now it sometimes happened that one side used its new weapon so effectively that it soon found itself in a position to destroy the enemy. But as soon as this possibility was realized by an intelligent victor, he would declare peace and set about salving the host which he had come so near exterminating. Sometimes, if the enemy had suffered many fatal casualties, certain members of the victorious host would be drafted into the defeated army. At all costs the vanquished must be strengthened, so that they might become once more an adequate foe.

I was struck by two great differences between militarised man and the militarised nebulae. In man the militarisation of the individual mind is never as thorough as in the nebulae. His devotion to warfare is never so single-minded. His unmilitary nature is even liable to betray him into phases of pacifism. But in the finest examples of nebular militarism, Mars was worshipped with complete devotion. Only in those groups in which, through the exigencies of fortune, there remained traces of the impulses toward a pacific dance form, or toward mutual service, or toward intellectual pursuits, was the dance of war ever liable to be marred.

The second respect in which nebular militarism differed from our own was this. The nebulae, since they could not propagate their kind, could not rely on an inexhaustible supply of the raw material of slaughter. The average group had only a few hundred members. It was impossible, therefore, not to regret the killing of an enemy, since, once killed, he could never be killed again. It was even regrettable that an enemy should ever be permanently maimed, since as a cripple he could never again be a worthy foe.

But such was the spirit of the militarised nebulae that these regrets were seldom allowed to interfere with the prosecution of the noble dance of war. Only in a few debased groups was war emasculated by the convention that lethal weapons should not be used. In most, the process of mutual slaughter proceeded honourably and steadily; though slowly, for in nebular warfare improvements in defence managed to keep pace with improvements in attack. In many of the martial groups the members were well aware that extinction faced them; but they were convinced that one hour of glorious life was worth an age without a name. Not once but many times have I watched the final scene of such a heroic drama. The last two surviving heroes, locked in graceful but murderous embrace, and surrounded by the corpses of their fellows, have simultaneously penetrated one another's cores with lethal shafts of radiation. For a while. each has writhed in agony, using his last breath to praise his noble enemy and the noble dance of war. Then death has conquered both.

In other cases, the war has been carried on so vigorously yet so ineffectively that each enemy has actually used up the seemingly inexhaustible springs of his radiation. Each fainting and enfeebled army has been forced to slaughter its own members, one by one, and use their energy for military purposes; until at last the insane and emaciated survivors of each host have even sapped their own vital processes in order to fling a last, impotent but suicidal volley of radiation at the dying foe.

The martial groups were not typical of the social life of the nebulae. They were definitely freaks, whose strange perversion was due to peculiarities in their early history. But though rare, and seemingly doomed to self-destruction, these perverts were to play an important and a baleful part in nebular history.

Chapter 9

Chapter 7

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