"Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say."
Dr. Slade's opening words arrested the air as I braced myself for the grinding minutes to follow.
"Ever since the concept first reached the intellects of man, its consequences have plagued the deepest recesses of their lives. While the obvious connotation is one of alarm, such a caricature of fear is really only one of numerous aesthetics disguising a simple, singular fact: that without air to push around, sound waves are rendered unable to transmit information, and, as such, are deemed virtually nonexistent."
He moved toward the podium and stepped up before continuing. "It was during my own stretch here in the Academy that I spent a great deal of time pondering over this idea, as it was here where I ultimately shattered the myth of its immutability wide open. It was that very journey of discovery that ultimately became the focus of my doctoral thesis, in fact..."
I shifted irritably in my seat as the hot air of Dr. Slade's voice seamlessly filled the volume of the room.
What a pompous asshole.
I could only stomach so many of his unsubtly-condescending stories of achievement and conquest this close to lunch. This fourth course was no treat, I'll tell you. And it certainly wouldn't guarantee the first three were going to remain down forever.
I sighed. Nevertheless, that didn't change the fact that it was ultimately all for naught. Despite my feeble imaginings of escape, the fact remained anchor-like and indismissable: that I was trapped upon this tumultuous sea for the long haul.
While I originally pursued PLECO 101 as an elective, cruel fate had baited me under the false pretense that I would actually be doing something that would underscore and sharpen the shakier foundations of my degree. Instead, I was here; suffering Slade and his ridiculous memoirs for an A+ which I had since begun to bemoan. I had even sunk so low as to seriously consider shooting for a D- just so I could move the hell on. Sure, it was no secret to me that it was desperation talking. Even so, each day brought me closer and closer to surrendering myself to that fantasy, regardless of its very real consequences.
For reasons I probably shouldn't admit to, I shifted my attention to K.L., who was staring blankly at the board. I had no idea what had caught his attention so strongly--Dr. Slade hadn't even written anything of importance up there yet--but I was unsurprised all the same. I had known K.L. since the third grade, and in that time he hadn't changed much. On countless occasions I had caught him staring down chalkboards and similar objects of vacuousness as if they were a unique form of black hole which hungered for attention rather than light. As he was one of my closest friends, I avoided dwelling on such things, even within my own mind, and had avoided even alluding to them as they entered my thoughts from time to time. Still, I'd be completely dishonest not to admit that the theory was probably giving him way too much credit.
Dr. Slade had finally gotten off his high...podium...and had broached the topic that would be the focus of today's "lesson": the future implementation of Venerean time shares. God, it was irritating. It was probably only because he had an investment in that venture that he had chosen to lecture on it. We were seeing history in the making here, evidently. No doubt he'd be adding this to his ever-growing arsenal of grating topics to inundate and despair future students with.
As he began to delve into the latest pop theories concerning the enterprise, I shifted my attention completely to K.
"K," I murmured. His attention remained undivided.
"K!" I repeated, a touch more harshly. I was moderately surprised his tongue wasn't already lolling out by this point.
I picked up an eraser and cocked my wrist back. I aimed for his upper arm and threw it. I ended up hitting his cheek dead on. I immediately dropped my face into the crook of my elbow to muffle my laughter.
Judging by his obvious gasp of surprise, I could tell that had undoubtedly gotten his attention; and by the words that followed that he had turned knowingly toward me. "Dude, what?"
Struggling against the bevy of tears that were demanding to be set free, it took some time before I could eke out a response, albeit a quivering, tonally-vague one. "I thought you were falling in love with the board there for a second," I whispered in heaving pants. "You know how Dr. Slade feels about his possessions. He might have a new guinea pig for his experiment if you aren't too careful."
He stared me down for some time, as if slowly processing my words; which, I had to admit, he probably was. The notion immediately threatened to destabilize my already frantic attempts to stifle my uproarious giddiness, and I was forced to thrust my face into my elbow once more.
He huffed out a weak laugh. "Yeah, right. If he takes his attention off of himself for a minute, maybe." He paused again, probably so that he could return his attention to the board. After a short time, he continued. "Besides, I heard you already volunteered."
My head immediately popped up, as if on a spring. Not bothering to restrain either my look of disgust or the procession of tears that were still renting space there, I nearly burst out in response. "Are you kidding me? Hell no. That's just a silly rumor someone started for God knows what reason. Besides, he'll probably just end up talking the whole time, anyway. I can stay here for that."
I turned my attention begrudgingly back to the board, where Slade was plotting what was surely Venus and its numerous environmental and compositional characteristics. However, as I stared vacant-like toward the board myself, an obvious thought occurred to me, and I began to reconsider the idea. "Then again...maybe he won't even be around." I paused, mulling it over further. "Hmm. Perhaps the extra credit would be worth my time after all..."
Turning back to K.L., I saw that his previous expression had dropped like a curtain, revealing one of amusement. "I knew the extra credit would get you in the end, Jerr," he teased. His leftmost oral commissure was curled in a half-hemisphere on his face. He picked up the eraser and placed it back on my desk. "If you want something to chew over, little doggy--try this?"
I regarded the eraser with mild contempt, then dropped my hand over it. "Yes," I responded, sarcastically. "Very funny." I moved it back to its accustomed spot and turned my attention forward again. Slade had filled the chalkboard with facts that appeared from this distance to concern Venus's atmosphere, gravity pull, surface temperature, axial tilt, etc. At least the information continued to provide a semblance of safe and welcome distraction. Not that I was completely disinterested, mind you. It was just that the course headaches had left a markedly distasteful shadow upon my palette.
He dropped the chalk onto the tray, then turned to address the class. "Because the atmospheric pressure on Venus is borderline nonagenarian--90 times stronger than Earth's, to be specific--establishing technology that will support colonies, let alone an outside stroll, extracts a heavy toll. The monumental challenge is further undermined by a CO2-dense environment, resultant 462 degree centigrade mean temperature, and the fact that it takes 2/3 of an Earth year for the planet to complete a single rotation and revolution. In other words, the undertaking makes even age-old Alaska look like a resort community."
There was scattered laughter which sounded predominantly female.
He continued. "In the end, it all comes down to the synergetic forces of material and structural engineers to alleviate these extremes and adjust their feasibility to a more tangible and stabilized level."
He paused dramatically before directly addressing an unseen, ultimate quintet.
"That's where you come in."
He walked up the center aisle, stopping about four rows up. "A select few of you will be tasked with crowdfunding ideas and theories that will assist these engineers in making human habitation possible not only on Venus, but on potentially all planets in the known solar system...and maybe even those beyond it."
His eyes moved over the crowd as he talked. "There will ultimately be five openings to fill. Fourteen applicants have registered so far, with the final date for submissions coming up this Friday, the 9th. Any and all are invited to apply." As he began to turn back toward the board, his attention lingered a bit longer in three different directions, one of which was mine. Then he made for the front again. "For those of you who are willing to take on the challenge, the potential for an extraordinary future awaits you. Be sure to think it over before you get left behind." He stopped to tap a small stack of papers on his desk with deliberate emphasis. "For those interested, the applications are here."
Then, as determinedly epic as it was cryptic: "Now is the time for glory. Do not let it slip away."
He slid his fingers off the stack and approached the board once more.
- “Interesting Facts about Venus.” Interesting Facts about Venus, Royal Museums Greenwich, https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/interesting-facts-about-venus.
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