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A small group of earth men and women exploring a chain of stars come upon an alien belt device that appears imbued with a benevolent sentience, whose purpose is purely one of service. It can grant it’s wearer any wish or desire.

They eventually realize this level of technology is a grave danger to the human race. Attempts are made to destroy the belt, with no success. In desperation, they release some tremendous force or chain reaction that detonates the entire star chain, thus sacrificing themselves for the good of humanity.

In the last scene the belt is floating through space unscathed, making its way to Earth.

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    The belt that gives people power reminds me of "the skills of Xanadu" by Theodore Sturgeon, but the rest of the story doesn't match. Possibly another one of his? Oct 10, 2023 at 11:50
  • Did you set it to Wumbo?
    – RC_23
    Oct 11, 2023 at 6:00

1 Answer 1

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That is "Tiger Ride" by James Blish & Damon Knight, first published in Astounding Science Fiction, October 1948.

It's a perfect match to all your points. The race that developed the belts made them better and better until the belts served them in every way and protected them perfectly. The race died out, basically out of lack of interest in continuing. (The story touches on the theme of Jack Williamson's The Humanoids.)

The story ends with the main character trying to destroy the belt (and himself, also):

Hal turned the modulator on full. The whole ridge of stars went up in a blaze of light. At last, Laura's [the belt's] golden voice wailed: "Hal, Hal, forgive me--"

In a coda, the belt says to itself:

The Styrtis blast was a tragedy: yet I could not tell Hal that I would survive it without making him more unhappy thaw he was. Now, I must go on to Earth where I may do better. I have decided to pose as Hal; it seemed fitting; he had his race in his heart, as do I. We have, after all, a long tradition of service.

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