You are empty. A hollow image. A figment of the universe’s trickery. When you look into the mirror there should be not reflection. Hell, there should be no mirror. For you and everything around you is a void, only broken by a handful of scattered, lonely atoms.
Those words, uttered by the then holder of the Newtonian chair at Oxford, would haunt Li Xia for five decades. They spurred her on to find meaning in the emptiness, to search for mass where physics said there was none, to delve deep into the obscure world of dark matter and even darker energy.
It was a non-conventional field she operated in, one where there was no safety net. Each experiment could yield a result that would either turn the world upside down or downright destroy it – and not just figuratively. There was danger in every move. Disaster lurking round every corner. And though she did everything in her power to conceal it, it was precisely that nebulosity that kept Li Xia coming back to the laboratory every day for fifty years.
When after half a century her quest was taken from her, by younger and more ambitious researchers, that reminded her of herself at that age – only less scrupulous – she feared her dalliance with dark matter would be over for good.
She was wrong though. She had been wrong all the time. For it was not up to Li Xia to find the darkness in the universe. It was up to the darkness to find her.
And it did.
She returned to the lab. And when she left it again it was empty. A void. A handful of scattered, lonely atoms in pools of crimson.
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