Of Space and Bachelor’s Degrees Chapter 4

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IV

Richard was tired. This had accidentally replaced his boredom. Since he had been bored, he decided that maybe some exercise would take his mind off of things. He managed to do some pushups and situps, somehow. He quickly remembered that he was experiencing almost twice the gravity he was used to. He had forgotten after the very start, but using muscles that weren’t as commonly used quickly reminded him. Now Richard had a problem, because he was tired but it was nowhere near the time he would normally sleep. That is, normally he slept about sixteen hours after he woke up, but it had only been ten.

Richard now thought about how hours were stupid units of time. Twenty four of them in an average day, with sixty minutes in them each. Then, sixty seconds in those minutes. This was completely off balance with units of measurement for mass, volume, and distance, which were measured in powers of ten. Richard figured it was a holdover from a previous century and people just weren’t willing to update. Still, he wasn’t even sure how that became a galactic standard. Then, after thinking about standard units for an hour, just as he was about to finish a much better, more sensible standard, Richard blessedly fell asleep.

The dry mouth Richard had when he woke up reminded him that he had had much less to drink than to eat in the past… he looked at his phone for the time… twenty hours. Somehow, he had slept a bit more than ten hours, even though he was now waking up not that long after the time he would have gone to sleep. He really needed to find something to do besides eat and sleep. His stomach growled. Well, maybe he could find something to actually do later.

This time, Richard ate at a rather cheap place that was pretty much the only place open. Fortunately for him, they had just started serving breakfast, and it was human food. He didn’t want to eat anything experimental first thing in the morning. Well, at least his body said it was morning instead of late at night, and technically it would have been a bit after midnight. When he first got his food the smell was overpowering, and the first bite was way too strong for his taste. After that, however, he got used to eating food with actual taste again.

Richard later found a lounge where news was being shown from around the system. That is to say, pretty much people talking about nothing. These people were just blathering and then advertising at him. Of course, if they had been showing galactic news it would have been much more interesting and depressing. With so many people, there was bound to be plenty of bad news to show.

After a few hours of that, some of the earlier risers were out and about, and Richard found himself playing a game he called “what would it be like to be me?” He had just made it up, and it involved pretending to understand how it would feel to have more arms or eyes or ears or… whatever those things were that that person over there had. Somehow, this was more mind numbingly boring than system news, but Richard kept at it for a while.

Finally, it was time for Richard’s apparently favorite pastime on this ship, eating. Somehow, all the human food serving restaurants were full again. What were people doing up this early? Well, Richard couldn’t really legitimately judge them, since there were doing what he was planning to do at the same time. The next place that had open seats… Richard didn’t even want to think about eating at. It smelled like death and fear. Also, lettuce. Three things Richard didn’t want his food to smell like.

Finally, Richard found another place that had seats open. No foul smells, so he sat down. Thus, he found himself back at his most visited restaurant. He asked himself why he was there so frequently, but he just answered that he was bored and hungry way too much on this stupid ship. Were the meals here lower calories than he was used to?

Since there was no one around to steal food ideas off of, namely that one Xevaronian, Richard chose randomly from the menu.

“How many calories are in these meals anyway?” he asked the chef.

“Oh, just about three thousand. Xevaronian meals are pretty hearty.”

Now Richard was stunned. He had always considered himself a normal eater, averaging at perhaps two thousand calories. Per day. Yesterday, he had eaten half that again… twice. Richard hoped he wasn’t going to get fat from overeating, because he seemed to be making it a habit. Granted, one day wasn’t going to kill him, but he had been so hungry somehow. Still, he vowed to himself to watch what he ate so that it wouldn’t become a problem.

Richard was served a plate of some kind of red salad. He imagined it tasted like roses and raspberries and not at all like lettuce. He also specifically noticed that it was very heavy. A small bite was much more dense that it looked. Perhaps that was a feature of Xevaronian food, although he couldn’t imagine that they needed that many more calories than a human, even if they were a bit taller. Maybe most of them ended up fat or only ate a single meal a day. Still, he had seen that other Xevaronian at both meals the day before and Richard did not remember him being even a bit chubby. See, look at how skinny he was.

“So, we meet again, human. Fate must be conspiring to bring us together.” Richard was surprised to see the same Xevaronian walk up. He was probably the only one on the ship, now that Richard thought about it.

Although he didn’t normally talk to people he didn’t know, Richard figured eating three meals near someone counted for something. He responded,  “Fate, hunger, full restaurants, and a very boring ship.”

The Xevaronian gave a very hearty laugh. His deep voiced echoed a bit between the walls of the tiny restaurant. “Needs of the body are one of the best tools of fate. Plus, it gives the people sitting in other places a purpose in life. After all, what are people but tools that force others to sit together and form important bonds. Or at least, chat about the weather.”

“Indeed, and speaking of the weather, this is some lovely always-exactly-the-same space out isn’t it? I’m surprised they didn’t mention it on the news.”

“Well, they had to instead mention that Utopia is perfect as always, with no crime or protests not involving fonts used on government buildings. What if someone didn’t know that already?”

“I would assume that someone lives underground in a box and never sees the outside world.”

“Indeed! Perhaps that person should get out and learn sometime. Perhaps, like me, they would go learn something at a university.” The Xevaronian chuckled at this. It seemed forced, but Richard somehow felt the feelings behind it were genuine, if not the action itself.

Richard was taken aback for a second. He assumed from his judgements about this man’s age that he was on a business trip or something. Maybe a vacation. Not about to attend, probably, the same university he was.

The Xevaronian spoke again before Richard could say anything, “I know what you might be thinking, how I’m too old to go school. Well, I’ll have you know that you are both wrong and right. I am thirty eight standard years old, which is a late start. However, I am also at the early end of true adulthood for a Xevaronian, which is because of some complicated things about us that I have no need to explain at this time. Hmm, I suppose I should introduce myself. My real name is sixteen syllables long, but since I’ve only ever been called that when I was in trouble, call me Jot.”

“Ah, I’m Richard. Richard Smith. I’m just starting university as well, in case you hadn’t guessed that.”

“Smith? That is an interesting surname. Does it have any meaning?”

“I think it was some kind of profession. For people who made things out of metal.”

“So a mechanic?”

“I guess so.”

Richard spent the next few hours in pleasant conversation with Jot. He found out that Jot was planning to major in kinesiology, whereas Richard was planning to major in biology. Richard also learned that Jot was a practitioner of the Xevaronian martial arts, of which there was apparently only one school. Richard noted that recently he had only been involved in the culinary arts, and then mostly as a consumer.

They were instant friends, and spent the rest of the otherwise boring travel eating too much together and correcting common misconceptions they had about each other’s species. For example, Richard learned that Xevaronians actually needed the calories they consumed, because they had very dense muscles to support. Meanwhile Richard informed Jot that not all humans had the same skin and hair color, which Jot found rather strange. Jot had always assumed that there were several species that were just very similar in other ways.

Thus, they arrived on Maropa, where they had to split up. Not permanently, however, since they knew they were going to the same school. Plus, what were phones for if not for connecting with people you meet on a boring ship? Well, for one, Richard remembered they were for calling your mother and telling her everything went fine, because mothers worry. So he did that.

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