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Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg

Can be little more than formal


"I

think, Prince," I replied, "that I have already asked you what you would think of a subject of your own, who should put such a power into the hands of enemies as formidable to you as you would be to the races of the Earth."

"And _I_ think," he rejoined with a smile, "that I reminded you how little my judgment would matter to one possessed of such a power. I have gathered from your conversation how easily we might conquer a world as far behind us in destructive powers as in general civilisation. But why should you object? You can make your own terms both for yourself and for any of your race for whom you feel an especial interest."

"A traitor is none the less a despicable and loathsome wretch because his Prince cannot punish him. I am bound by no direct tie of loyalty to any Terrestrial sovereign. I was born the subject of one of the greatest monarchs of the Earth; I left his country at an early age, and my youth was passed in the service of less powerful rulers, to one at least of whom I long owed the same military allegiance that binds your guards and officers to yourself. But that obligation also is at an end. Nevertheless, I cannot but recognise that I owe a certain fealty to the race to which I belong, a duty to right and justice. Even if I thought, which I do not think, that the Earth would be better governed and its inhabitants happier under your rule, I should have no right to give them up to a conquest

I know they would fiercely and righteously resist. If--pardon me for saying it--you, Prince, would commit no common crime in assailing and slaughtering those who neither have wronged nor can wrong you, one of themselves would be tenfold more guilty in sharing your enterprise."

"You shall ensure," he replied, "the good government of your own world as you will. You shall rule it with all the authority possessed by the Regents under me, and by the laws which you think best suited to races very different from our own. You shall be there as great and absolute as I am here, paying only an obedience to me and my successors which, at so immense a distance, can be little more than formal."

"Is it to acquire a merely formal power that a Prince like yourself would risk the lives of your own people, and sacrifice those of millions of another race?"

"To tell you the truth," he replied, "I count on commanding the expedition myself; and perhaps I care more for the adventure than for its fruits. You will not expect me to be more chary of the lives of others than of my own?"

"I understand, and as a soldier could share, perhaps, a feeling natural to a great, a capable, and an ambitious Prince. But alike as soldier and subject it is my duty to resist, not to aid, such an ambition. My life is at your disposal, but even to save my life I could not betray the lives of hundreds of millions and the future of a whole world."

"I fail to understand you fully," he said, abandoning with a sigh a hope that had evidently been the object of long and eager day-dreams. "But in no case would I try to force from you what you will not give or sell; and if you speak sincerely--and I suppose you must do so, since I can see no motive but those you assign that could induce you to refuse my offer--I must believe in the existence of what I have heard of now and then but deemed incredible--men who are governed by care for other things than their own interests, who believe in right and wrong, and would rather suffer injustice than commit it."

"You may be sure, Prince," I replied, perhaps imprudently, "that there are such men in your own world, though they are perhaps among those who are least known and least likely to be seen at your Court."


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