Demons Hunt in Darkness

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** QUANTUM SHORTS 2021/2022: SHORTLISTED

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‘Once your Demon finds you, you can never escape.’

Every child knew this in their blood; they were raised  in shadow, in hiding. Gaia's life resonated with the fear of being found. She was one of the few still unknown - still free, according to her mother - though some who strained at the confines of their restrictive safety thought freedom belonged to those on the outside, not understanding what they had given up to be there. Those who surrendered themselves to their Demon relinquished control over their lives. Nothing more could touch them, but this was because the worst had already happened, they had nothing to lose. Some, once they reached the Age of Determination and gained the legal right to reveal themselves, would simply greet their Demon with open arms to begin their new life, entwined.

The Demons of the Laplace Order were not warmongers, but stalkers; the fear of being found was not of being killed, but of being eternally hunted. Although there was no history of bloodshed by the Order, they would take lives in a different way, and their power was no magic, but mathematics. Once a Demon found its target it would know everything about them, and calculate everything they would ever do.  The fear of being found was that of being known by another more deeply than by oneself, of living one’s life as if in retrospect, as if acting out the character of oneself in a play where every line is already rehearsed.

Gaia’s brother, at the Age of Determination, had left his family and tentative sanctuary and walked out to meet his Demon and accept his fate. Everywhere he went now, the Demon would be - a silent, inscrutable presence, a malevolence of omniscience. In his desire to be free, he gave up the most fundamental freedom; he could never conceive a thought that his Demon had not already shown him. When it took his hand, he became instantly possessed of an awareness of everything he would ever do, and see, and think, and be, in a precise timetable detailing every moment of his life up to his death. He knew already when and how he would die, that he would fall from a cliff he had no option but to climb. Until then, he had to go about the motions of his life like re-reading a book, like inking in the words of a story his Demon had written on the page in pencil. He was a prisoner of his own future.

Gaia roamed the hideaway – small, enclosed, she knew every millimetre of the place she had grown up in. That’s how she noticed a thin shadow tracing one of the wall panels  – barely perceptible, but new, as if the panel had begun to slide out of place. Lifting it aside, she found the hollow wall was stacked with textbooks. It was well known that when the Demons first took over, generations ago, they had burned all the books so that they could rewrite all the minds, but now Gaia knew that they hadn’t quite succeeded. Under the Order’s shadow, with every possible eventuality already mapped out, there could be no questioning - no science.  Gaia wanted to know what they didn’t want her to. Confined, but free to think, she began to study mathematics and physics, laying the path for her journey into quantum mechanics.

She learned about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that we cannot know the position and velocity of a particle simultaneously. This settled in her mind with a shift of perspective, flooding her with the beauty of variety, the infinite possibility of an indeterministic Universe, as the Demonic lie which had scaffolded all their lives suddenly fell away. The Demons could not know the future, because they could never know everything.  Gaia understood that the collapse of the wavefunction would show her the collapse of the Order.

She knew then that it was safe to go outside, to do anything she wanted to. She searched the streets for her brother, passing Demons and the people in their thrall. A lone Demon loped after her with sinuous speed, and she knew before it took her hand that it had been seeking her. As it touched her, the future flooded through her like memories in temporal reverse. She knew that she was going to turn left; she looked straight at her Demon, and turned right. Recoiling at her defiance, it fled.

Gaia found her brother standing in his Demon’s shadow and ran to him. He shouted her name with bewildered joy, the word crystallising on his lips in shock as he realised he had spoken it without ever planning to. For the first time since he had taken his Demon’s hand his life went off script, and he felt it like his heart missing a beat. In a world where everyone played out their roles as written, surprise had felt impossible. He looked at her, searching for an explanation in her expression. ‘Nothing is predestined,’ she told him; ‘no one can know the future, the demons can’t calculate it. They don’t show you the future, they tell you a story, but everyone believes so deeply in the deception that we follow their instructions not because we have no choice, but because we believe we have none.’

With these words, Demon rule shattered.

The people had all, always, been free; and now they knew it, they could live freely. They emerged into a new landscape, the new terror of being responsible for writing their own stories. It’s a lot to think about, when every movement and word is no longer fated, but unknown and unknowable.The new generations of children are told a new refrain, over and over until it sings through their veins; science is the light to guide us to freedom in this demon haunted world.

About the Author: 
S.G. Phillips is a PhD student in astronomy with a passion for literature and theatre, who enjoys long walks in beautiful places.
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