Somewhere beyond Antares, along the trajectory set by the tail of the Serpent, is a tiny group of stars, as yet unknown and unnamed by most on Earth. The effect of its cluster is blue, glowing and smoky, and its sector can sometimes be glimpsed as such on a clear summer night in the North.
Amongst them was one called Edmund. His light was yellowish, like a clear topaz, but warmer than the Sun, something like saffron. Edmund was hardly young, but he was among the newer stars in the group.
For reasons—still—known only to themselves, the elder stars had of late taken to running their courses in jars. Edmund had looked askance at them for some time, but went about his business of tracing the darkness of the universe. When a council of stars approached him, sometime after Aldebaran’s infamous holiday (after which, as we all know, that brilliant satellite was never the same), he began to understand.
‘We would like to speak with you, Edmund,’ Penda began.
‘Indeed!’ chimed in Offa, ‘Indeed, we want to know why–’
‘Ahem,’ Penda cut off his more abrupt colleague, ‘we would like you to know we have found you a jar. We hope you find it suits you.’ He offered up the object in question. Edmund looked at the jar with a mixed expression.
‘What is it for?’ he asked. Penda looked around at the others, then replied with a smile,
‘Why, it’s for you to be in.’
‘Yes, to be in, like all the rest of us,’ said Offa gruffly, moving the jar closer to Edmund as a sign of its obvious relevance.
‘Like all the rest of us,’ piped up Aeldred.
‘But surely it isn’t necessary?’
‘You see we’re all using them,’ said Raedwal, stepping in as apologist. ‘And we’re finding them very effective.’
Edmund gazed around silently, taking note of the different aspects of the group encased in glass. They’d been fogging up these shells with their own breath, and distorting the glass with their heat.
Edmund decided against pointing these things out. Instead, he asked,
‘Have the Great Shapes—the Pleiades, the Bears, Cassiopeia—have they been known and named by muting their light?’
The question was not granted the consideration he had intended. Almost immediately came a reply.
‘We aren’t interested in what they’ve been doing for their reknown,’ Offa said with a sniff. ‘Our purposes are here and now, and the other bodies may come closer and look harder, with the jars between them and us.’
‘Like a sort of shield,’ said Raedwal.
‘Yes, yes, a sort of shield,’ echoed Aeldred.
‘Yes, yes,’ said they all.
‘Surely you can see how this is helpful,’ Penda said, his tone unconsciously slipping into one of cajoling. Edmund looked at him hard while he thought.
‘But I was—we were—made to be stars,’ said he, ‘and see how the glass casts a shadow on you and makes your fire quiver. I have freedom to shine, to light my course, and burn unfailingly and to effect… And what’s more, we’ve never needed jars to do so before.’ Penda looked at him in dismay.
‘But before is not now,’ said Raedwal. ‘We don’t want to be so stellar now.’
‘I don’t want the jar.’
Offa seemed naturally to float to the front of the group.
‘You’ll take it like the rest of us,’ he said haughtily. ‘Besides you’re the only one without it, and people ask questions. It’s for the best, for everyone’s best.’ With this positive spin, Offa tried to smile.
‘Your insistence doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t seem right, somehow…’
‘Everything comes closer now,’ said Aeldred, proud that he’d taken advantage of the silence to say his piece. ‘Just in the last turn I’ve had a comet, a bit of an old Terran rocket, and even an asteroid pass very close indeed! The comet lingered to talk.’
‘Oh?’ Edmund prompted. Silence. ‘Where is the comet now?’
‘Er, um, well… the point is, she approached, and she didn’t have to squint.’
‘I see. All the same, I’ll pass on the jar. I’d rather anyone who came by know who and what I was, and to look, or not.’
There was a murmuring in the ranks, and a clinking as some of the jars knocked against each other. No one spoke to Edmund. Rather, all the stars in the front turned toward one another, whispering. Every now and again came strange hissing and growling sounds. Finally, Penda came back to Edmund.
‘Please, Edmund, just get in the jar.’
‘I told you why not.’
‘Then, then, I, I–’ But before he could finish, Edmund looked about him and saw that several stars had emerged from their glass shells, and quietly surrounded him. Offa, Aeldred and Raedwal led the charge, and it was only after he was swept up and slid through a circular opening that Edmund realized it had all been moot. The scraping sound above him was a lid being put in place and screwed tight, though it was barely audible above the clamour and mutual congratulation offered by the group that the outlier was finally ‘like them’, and they wouldn’t have to feel so awkward about it all now.
Edmund saw through the already distorting window that surrounded him that Penda, still in his own jar, was looking at him regretfully, but uselessly.
It was after a time of chatter and sighs of relief that the stars, having returned to their own jars, realized that something had happened. A sort of winking out. And when they looked, though there was not much amazement, some were indeed puzzled. Of course, there was found no one to blame, for they had all decided it was for the best.
In their haste and their zeal they’d turned the lid too tight, and put the fire out, extinguishing it like a candle. And Edmund’s light shone no more.
The radiance of essence, the radiance of truth. Labour to quench it, and you may do just that.