Brick House Pt. 08 Ch. 09-10bytedszabopub©
All content copyright 2012 Ted Szabo
This is part 8 of a longer work, "Brick House." The two chapters included here—9 and 10-- have minimal erotic content. They are provided for the convenience of readers interested in the larger story.
"Your turn." John, one of my next-door neighbors, completed his move quickly, pushing a pile of cardboard chits toward the center of the board as he nodded in my direction. I painstakingly pondered my predicament, eyeing John's massing minions with trepidation and trying to select from several equaling unappealing strategic options. Finally, sighing, I rolled several twenty-sided dice and tallied the results.
"Great crapping king of all crappers," I cursed, "things are not looking good." Al and I had been over at John's place—apartment twelve, which was just across the hall from us--for the last hour so, playing a complex board game that involved moving plastic miniatures around randomly generated terrain. John, an older student who was about three quarters bald, been victorious the first time we'd played and looked well-positioned to come out on top on this occasion as well.
John had a self-deprecating wit and a loud, braying laugh that should have been off-putting but somehow wasn't. Al, John, and I had similar sensibilities and taste in entertainment, and the three of us had been hanging out pretty regularly for most of the semester. I wasn't sure how many hours we had whiled away chewing on Cheetos and making fun of antediluvian Dr. Who episodes, but there had been quite a few.
A couple turns later John began to capitalize on his advantage, preparing to move in for the kill. Realizing he had Al had I on the run, John filled the room with honking guffaws. "I've gotcha now! Cower, lower life forms." He shook the dice above his head in both hands, making a globe of his small, hairy knuckles.
"Yeah, yeah, we'll see, the tide may turn again bucko," said Al, not easily intimidated.
"Hmm," I mused, "I've never been quite sure how well that really works as a metaphor. Do tides really 'turn' or do they just kind of rise and fall, go in and out, stuff like that?"
Al gave me a scowl. "You take that back, bastard. I'll not have my gleaming metaphors besmirched."
"Well," I answered, clenching my fists pugilistically, "those would be fightin' words. Shall we call this a draw and get out the quarters and shot classes so we can settle this like men? Dr. Who's coming up. We should each have at least three drinks in us before that show starts."
John nodded vehemently. "Friends don't let friends watch Dr. Who sober."
After emptying a bottle of Caribbean rum while watching the fluffy-haired Doctor confront stentorian Daleks, Al and I made our way toward the sprawling Gothic Revival dorm where we took our meals. John had decided to gnaw on some leftover pizza rather than brave the residence hall cafeteria.
"Ted," Al said muzzily, "What do you think's going to happen, you know, with the lot of us, after we get out of this place?"
I shrugged, not really sure what my swarthy roommate was looking for. "Guess it'll be different for each of us. Most of us—the roommates, friends there in the building, those guys you and Sam hang out with over at the frat house—are looking a pretty random assortment of different careers and have a mishmash of majors. We're not on any sports teams together, and I don't really see any of us getting jiggy with the alumni association. There's just not really a common thread there. You and Dean are both from out East, but he's probably going to end up Silicon Valley."
"So, we just kind of drift apart, huh?" Booze could make Al philosophical, and sometimes a little morose.
"I'd like to say we'll all keep in touch—call each other up, exchange messages using social media and so on, but I don't really see it. I'll think we'll end up finding our own paths, mostly. If any of us do meet up, it's more likely to be due to chance than anything else."
"I don't know," said Al. "Don't you ever think there might be something a little less... well, tangible that could draw people together--get them to connect or reconnect? It isn't all just about professional associations or wanting to work for the same company or join the same cult or whatever, is it?"
"What do you mean? The fundamental interconnectedness of all things—something like that?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"I don't think so. That's fine for books and movies, where some omniscient storyteller gets to pull the strings, ignoring all sense of probability and cause and effect, but the real world is a lot more Newtonian."
"Yeah, you're probably right. Big school, big world. Hey, you think they're serving manicotti tonight?"
"I don't know, I didn't look at the meal plan schedule they published for this week. Why?"
"'Cause they serve the worst manicotti in the world here. It looks like regurgitated snot. If that's what they're going to give us we should just go back to the apartment and make John share that big pile of stale pizza with us."
"Sure Al, I'm on board with that."
We walked the rest of the way to the Quad in silence, passing through its dim, noisy courtyard on the way to the stairs. At least four different radio stations, including the Quad's own, were blaring from various windows, and a recently deposited layer of moisture, provided courtesy of the last big thunderstorm of the year, slopped underfoot.
Manicotti was not on the menu that night. Chapter 10
I rubbed my temples wearily, peering out over a downward sloping, Dali-esque landscape from which the heads and upper bodies of students appeared to sprout—healthy, densely packed, and ready to be harvested by any cannibals that might be lurking about. Attending lectures in the older, oversized halls with stadium seating always took on an air of the surreal for me, especially when I sought refuge in the far back row.
This particular lecture was well attended and I was sharing the creaky, cavernous space with nearly two hundred classmates, all of whom were trying to make sense of the same dense weave of equations I was. The professor had two projectors going, one showing a progressively hairier set of formulas that grew in an almost oozing, organic fashion as she added to them, and another with an animated depiction of binary stars rapidly orbiting one another. What had possessed me to take the class I wasn't sure—astrophysics at that level was way more work than I was really willing to do. I took a moment to stare in dissatisfaction at my notes. All I really had was introductory stuff on the subject I had selectively copied from the PDFs sent out for earlier sessions.
After a star has formed, it creates energy at the hot, dense core region through the nuclear fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium. During this stage of the star's lifetime, it is located along the main sequence at a position determined primarily by its mass, but also based upon its chemical composition and other factors. All main-sequence stars are in hydrostatic equilibrium, where outward thermal pressure from the hot core is balanced by the inward gravitational pressure from the overlying layers.
I glanced over at Dean, who was sitting next to me, and saw that he was busily scribbling away at something on his tablet. He and I always sat at or near the far rear of the elephantine lecture hall, giving us the freedom to bullshit at leisure without annoying the instructor or the other students. I found my mind wandering more and more often during the class, and would have dropped it if it hadn't been too late in the semester. There were simply other things I was more focused on—my job, my CS classes—and women, of course.
Speaking of women, I noticed for the umpteenth time how good-looking the lecturer was, pert and professional in her prim attire. She seemed way younger, and far hotter, than any science professor had a right to be. If I'd seen her playing her real-life self in a movie I would have scoffed at the seemingly absurd casting decision, ridiculing the producers for trying to jam a curvy starlet into every role no matter how unsuitable.
Though it wasn't the first time I'd developed a crush on a teacher it was certainly the first time I'd found myself drawn to an academic with the sort of slightly crazed ardor I experienced during the astrophysics classes. One perplexing facet of the attraction lie in the fact that the more conservatively the woman dressed, the more intense my reaction to her presence became. A couple weeks before she'd shown up in a multilayered tweed pant-suit that left pretty much everything to the imagination and I'd been forced to recite the first scene of The Merchant of Venice backwards in my head to quell a throbbing, extraordinarily inconvenient boner. I wasn't sure what would happen if she showed up for class in one of those Muslim head-to-foot robe thingies where you couldn't even see the woman's forehead. Nothing legal, that was for certain. I supposed I would just have to pray to Allah that didn't happen.
In general, the more massive the star the shorter its lifespan on the main sequence. After the hydrogen fuel at the core has been consumed, the star evolves away from its main sequence. More massive stars can explode into a supernova, or collapse directly into a black hole.
"Dean," I said in a hoarse whisper, "look, the teacher is hot."
Dean peered over at me with his usual dry non-expression. "Um, yeah, good thing you told me again. I'd totally forgotten about the first five million times." He motioned toward the board. "Are you getting any of this?"
If components in a binary star system are close enough they can gravitationally distort their mutual outer stellar atmospheres. In some cases, these close binary systems can exchange mass, which may bring their evolution to stages that single stars cannot attain.
I stared at my laptop, pretending, for a few seconds, to slam away madly at its keys. "No, I didn't get any of it yet, but I'll catch up right away. Here I go! Wowza!" Dean continued to gaze at me with disinterested expression he typically maintained during lectures. Was he amused? Even a little? As usual it was hard to tell.
Somehow, Dean was managing to get an 'A' in the class, along with pretty much everything else. The only thing he really struggled with was his software development coursework, which I helped him along with. How someone with so much uncanny mathematical talent could have such a hard time coding, I had no idea. It had always seemed like an individual who was so good at the former would have at least a little aptitude for the latter. I craned my neck, looking over at Dean's tablet, checking to see whether there were any good notes I could get him to sft me later on.
Consider two stars orbiting each other at a separation of a few A.U. For a while, the two stars will be affected only moderately by each other's presence. However, eventually one of the stars will become a red giant. Its size will increase greatly, until it reaches its companion star. The result may be a merged core, two stars that are very close together. At this point, the companion star may overflow its Roche Lobe, with its mass beginning to be siphoned off by its companion. This is known as an accretion system.
Instead of lecture notes there was what I recognized as a prime example of Dean's work in the graphic arts. Along the bottom of the screen there marched a row of crudely drawn, angry looking bunnies. They wore helmets and were wielding machine guns with what appeared to be laser-assisted sights. One of them was carrying some sort of bazooka or rocket launcher, or maybe the penis of some gigantic beast--it was hard to say for sure--and above the dauntless varmints there flew of a fleet of heavily armed, brightly colored spacecraft. Pastel aliens with impossibly wide heads and completely random quantities of eyes peered through open portals, grimacing at the bunnies through jagged fangs. The rabbits were firing away frantically at the aliens and spent cartridges littered the ground. Dean's artistic skills were far from advanced, and the picture had the look of something that might have been executed by a slightly disturbed eight-year-old equipped with a box of dull Crayolas.
In an accreting binary system, the secondary star is not standing still in space—it is orbiting its companion. As a result, when the star is diminished, its substance will also orbit its companion. So, if the matter is orbiting, how does it wind up accreting onto the other star? The answer is, it doesn't unless something can take way its orbital motion. Can something do that? Yes, there is—it is the accreted matter itself.
I shook my head in wonderment. "Dean..."
"Yeah, yeah, dammit, I know. There's no way the rabbits could shoot into low earth orbit with hand-held guns. I need to give them some particle beam weapons, or maybe rail guns. Harder to draw, though..."
"That is just unnatural, man. You should either try to figure out these freakin' formulas or have the good sense to just sit here and ogle the instructor like the rest of us. Did I mention the teacher is hot?"
"Yeah, I had her."
"What!" I said, my voice rising far above my normal bullshitting-in-the-back-of the-lecture-hall volume. Noting several baleful glares from more committed students I lowered my voice. "How did it happen? Where did you do it—in, in her office? Come on, details."
Both the quantity and, sometimes, the quality of women Dean managed to attract was difficult to fathom. There seemed to be something about his weird bookishness, punctuated by bouts of wacky unpredictability, that drew in the fairer sex. On occasion Dean would put his voice mail on speaker just to show off, treating Al, Sam, and I to an endless parade of messages from female friends and admirers, many of which were of a highly suggestive nature.
Finally, let's consider some of the strange objects that are formed by accreting systems. Through accretion, a star can find itself with a substantial layer of hydrogen added to its surface. After a while, as more matter is piled on, bang—the accreted matter explosively fuses. We call this a nova.
Dean looked thoughtful. "I believe it was... in the materials lab. On top of one of the centrifuges. Very interesting."
"What the hell, on a centrifuge?" My mind was running wild. On a centrifuge, why hadn't I thought of that? "Dean, that is amazing," I gasped, wide-eyed, "are you shitting me?"
Dean cocked his head to one side, raising his eyebrows. "Yeah, of course, completely shitting you." He went back to his drawing. "I'm starting to think you spent too much time hanging out with Ray in high school. You're almost as gullible as he is."
Ray was old friend of mine who occasionally paid a visit. He was going to school in California but his family was well-to-do and purchasing a few domestic plane tickets each semester was well within his means. The guy was notoriously credulous and, in some respects, utterly naïve. He was a good friend, though, and loyal to a fault.
A nova occurs when a star explodes with cataclysmic violence. Occasionally a nova is bright enough and close enough to be conspicuous to the unaided eye. The brightest recent example was Nova Cygni 1975. This nova appeared in the constellation Cygnus about five degrees north of Deneb at magnitude 2.0.
Lacking an appropriately biting rejoinder I just grunted and stared back at the screen of my laptop, painstakingly attempting to work through the web of equations that continued to spread tenebrously across the front of the room.