The Hidden Star
According to ancient legends, at the centre of the universe is a fantastic Star of rare device. Some say It contains the secret to immortality. They call It the Soul Star.
Astronomers from all over the civilized cosmos speculate that the Star may be located deep in the Local Void, next to the Virgo Supercluster of galaxies (within which The Milky Way and Andromeda are located). Unfortunately, the Soul Star is extremely difficult to isolate within the changing dimensions of the Void, which has a width of about 60 megaparsecs, or 200 million light-years. In addition, the Star is most likely shielded in some way from the prying eyes of cosmographers — and from the ravaging fangs of the Black Pulse.
Narrowing the Star down to The Violet Hoop was itself a triumph — one claimed a thousand years ago by the wizard nerds of Scientium Fluvius (who inhabit a floating planet-island in The Pink Sea). Today, the wizard astronomers would bet their finest lichen slippers that the Soul Star couldn’t be in the Delphinus Void or in any of the dense formations of the Virgo or Pavus-Indus Superclusters, since both of those lay outside even the loosest of their triangulations.
The thing that most infuriated the Fluvian astronomers was that the only source of information about the Star’s location came from sources that were so ancient or so vague that they raised as many questions as they answered. In the most scientific of these accounts, it appeared that a thin purple beam (or wave, or field, or particle of indeterminate properties) rose from dying bodies. Using the most sensitive spectrographs, the Fluvians could see that these beams moved in the general direction of the Local Void. Yet because the beams were diffuse and unstable, and because they vanished in a second or two after appearing, the astronomers could only speculate on their precise destination.
Early descriptions of the Soul Star were equally problematic. In one account, provided by shape-shifters from The Blue Dream, the Soul Star changed its form depending on who was attempting to locate it. They told the epic tale of one group of brave Dreamers who journeyed into the Local Void and were forced out again. According to the shape-shifters, the Dreamers lacked a belief in the Star and therefore the Star refused to show itself to them. According to another account — by the mariachi singers of Guamexila, a poor and crowded galaxy on the edges of Dreamland Prime — the inhabitants of the Star constructed a huge wall, skillfully converting the energy of the Dreamers into forms of invisible matter which the Dreamers were then unable to penetrate. According to yet another account — by the poets of The Metaphoric Hoop, a supercluster in the bluest corner of The Dream — the Star didn’t exist. It was just a figment of the overheated imagination. It was nothing but a dream. This further confirmed their belief that everything was ultimately metaphoric and nothing was real. Unhelpfully, they added that only the Metaphor of the star was real, and that only the starry Dream itself held any value.
The astronomers of The Crimson Stalk were keen to study what humans said about Heaven and the afterlife, given that humans were a literate species who lived very close to the edges of the Void. Several famous human writers claimed Heaven was like a star, and love was the magic star that guided humans to safety. The Greeks believed that famous people became constellations after they died. The Stalkers were a bit disturbed to learn that the Greeks also thought people could become trees. Later Greeks, influenced by the religion of the Hebrews, believed that one tree grew a fruit that contained a knowledge so potent that it doomed the entire human race to eternal suffering and turmoil. The Stalkers felt that the poet Dante Alighieri had a more coherent understanding of the universe: in three long poems, he showed how the afterlife contained three sections: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. This satisfied the Crimson Stalkers, since the Local Void had vast filaments dividing it into three parts. The Stalkers called the third nearest the Crimson Stalk Heaven, the one closest to the Copper Tarn Purgatory, and the one closest to the Frozen Skiff Hell.
After conducting an extensive survey, the Stalkers found that most humans agreed that the soul rose from the body after death. It was then guided by a man called Jesus — or an obscure principle called Karma-Samsara — into celestial streams or into any number of worlds, including Earth. This account was very optimistic and appeared to be coloured by their rose-tinted glasses and their purple paint brushes. They were, after all, inhabitants of the Violet Hoop...
While the human accounts of the afterlife were fantastical, they did supply a motive or raison d’être for the energy signatures: if you were good you were beamed to the best third of the Local Void; if you were bad, you were beamed to the worst. The Stalkers tried to correlate the soul’s destination to moral information about individual humans, to see if good humans were beamed to Heaven, while evil people were beamed to Hell. Thousands of Crimson Stalkers spent their entire careers experimenting and speculating on this divine possibility of cause and effect. Yet ultimately it was all in vain (which they would have realized if only they had remembered the words of the teacher in Ecclesiastes). While their speculations were poetic, even sublime, they were still unable to isolate the exact vectors that the purple light beams took at the moment of death. To their horror, it seemed that good people and evil people were beamed indiscriminately to all corners of Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. Even more troubling, in a fundamental sort of way, was that the Stalkers couldn’t find one iota of proof that the energy patterns were in fact souls, that these souls flew to a great Star that contained all souls, or that such a Star was anywhere to be found.
Sagastalk, the great agnostic philosopher from Stalkhome, summed up the situation in the famous aphorism: You don't have to believe in it for it to exist, and it doesn't have to exist because you believe in it.
The exact co-ordinates of the Soul Star were indeed difficult to locate, but the Crimson Stalkers were obstinate. They tried everything suggested by the human poets and priests. They climbed the highest mountains and ran through the widest fields. They spoke with the tongue of angels and imagined holding the hand of the Devil himself. They focused their finest high-powered lenses on the fleeing soul-beam, in an attempt to see the colours bleed into one. But still the astronomers couldn’t find what they were looking for.
The Void-dwellers of Ruumar (a giant lacuna in The Copper Tarn) argued that it would be a gross sacrilege for the Soul Star to take any form whatsoever. The Void itself must be the star. The Ataari took this concept further, arguing that the star could be as small as a pea or as large as the Void itself, but that in either case it danced and spun so quickly that it only seemed as if it wasn’t there. The Ataari spent considerable time and effort constructing a high-speed, large-lens camera to photograph the Star in a fraction of a nanosecond. Their aim was to gaze at the wonders of what they called Infinity in Frozen Time.
In the end, astronomers from all over the cosmos were forced to conclude that the Soul Star eluded their grasp. It seemed to inspire different species to see It as a projection of their own obsessions.
Yet the astronomers were true scientists. They weren’t going to let the misconceptions of others stop them from finding what may or may not be the Truth.