The Land Where Demons Tread

“This can’t possibly be right.” The scientist squinted at the pale numbers displayed on her screen. “Life on a planet this close to its star? Never.”

“I know, it’s sounds far fetched.” Her student adjusted her glasses matter-of-factly. “But the numbers speak for themselves. We’ve got to go public.”

“Go public? Heavens, Aera, our colleagues will think we’re mad and the press will say you’ve discovered some nightmarish hell. By itself, life on such a planet would be unbelievable, but this might start a public panic. Think of the faithful, for one.”

Aera leaned back in her chair and ran her hands through her long, purple hair. “Comon Doc, we’ve been searching for this forever! Turns out we were looking in all the wrong places, but still, this is it: intelligent life on another planet!”

“You’re young, Aera. You must realize, one doesn’t simply announce a discovery like this. We’ve got to double check, then triple check, then consult the Planetary Physics Society before we publish.” The professor sipped her tea and let her eyelids flutter shut.

“PPS, huh? So what? So we can write some giant paper with fifty coauthors? Or worse, have the news leaked or our results scooped by some other group. Nuh-uh. Not doing it. This is my chance for a life-changing thesis.” She crossed her arms and legs. “I’m publishing.”

“Do you really want to be remembered as the scientist who thought she discovered Hades, planet of demons, and then turned out to be wrong?”

“Don’t be so melodramatic. It’s life, and almost certainly intelligent life. So what? I’ve poured through the numbers, the optical data, the infrared scans, the radio signals – everything. So they live closer to their star than we thought was possible? It’s only half as far as our home from our sun.”

“This planet is constantly bombarded by intense solar radiation. Even if the creatures there are all nocturnal, plants and fungi there would be baked alive trying to collect solar radiation. How could such a civilization survive? Even claiming there’s life there will be scandalous. But intelligent life?” The professor took a long, imploring look out the window.

Aera couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking. Was she really that afraid of their discovery? “Nish, who says life has to be nocturnal? That it can’t survive on a warmer planet?” She adjusted her glasses again. “I mean really. So people have this idea that everything should evolve like it did here. Isn’t that just a little bit ridiculous?”

“Radiation is a serious problem, Aera. You know that as well as I do. With the levels of light bombarding their planet it would still be warm well after sunset. Now you’re telling me these… these creatures have a civilization above the earth, out in broad daylight? That they burn hydrocarbons and radioactive nuclei to light and warm themselves at night. None of this makes any sense. They should already be burnt to a crisp!”

“Maybe not.” Aera raised an eyebrow at her advisor.

Her boss held up her hands. “Alright, alright. Suppose you’re right. Suppose life did evolve there, on their solar system’s third planet. Why not the other planets? There are eight of them after all. This hell of yours if covered is caustic fluids, baked under a bright yellow sun for almost 12 hours a day, and shielded by only a single moon. Surely some of the more hospitable planets in their solar system should be teeming with life. Yet we have no evidence of such a thing.” The glow from the computer screen was lighting half of her worried face as she gazed at her student.

Aera took a moment to look out the window as well. Outside the lab’s skylights, stars were twinkling brightly. “Maybe we’re the strange ones. Did you ever consider that? Hiding away from the sun’s energy, sneaking around at night, burrowing beneath hills and tress to protect ourselves. Maybe there are planets where creatures embrace the sun. Maybe every planet is weird. Maybe all life is different.”

The professor rolled her eyes. “You call that science? Everything is different,” she mocked. “What kind of scientific law is that? The crackpots will have a field day.” She ran a hand through her lavender hair. “Mark my words, this will never get published. Not without confirmation from multiple groups. Even then, the government might hush the story to prevent outright hysteria.” She shook her head and rose from her chair. “It’s getting late, Aera and the sun is nearly up. I’m heading home.”

Aera nodded and tapped a few keys on the computer with her long lavender fingers. Overhead, shutters clicked shut to block the skylight. “I think I’ll work through the day,” she said with a smirk. “I’m too excited.”

Nish laid a hand on her shoulder. “I’m urging you, both as your advisor and your friend, to think about this before you do anything rash.”

“Before I announce we’ve discovered a planet of demons?”

The professor sighed. “Before you ruin your career. Before you fill the world with nightmares.”

Aera leaned back in her chair and flashed her pointy teeth. “You mean before I change our idea of what’s possible.”

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