The Freshmen Hook Up
by Wil McCarthy
Living the entirety of their lives in puddles of water, the Bitomites of Kosm are creatures of abiding simplicity, with an immune system best described as “reluctantly promiscuous”, and with few of the refined attributes we expect from Standard Model signatories. Nevertheless, their lifetimes are among the longest known, limited only by their mating habits, which are themselves so complex and so singular as to merit a treatise of their own, which you currently hold in your attentive hands.
We begin with the puddle itself, which has a distinctly muddy appearance, being amply stocked with the even simpler raw materials from which the Bitomites self-assemble. Initially this body of water is too cramped to support Bitomite life, but as this is the rainy season in Kosm, the puddle undergoes a period of rapid expansion followed by a much longer period of filling that swells its borders in a slower, statelier manner.
Will this rainy season ever end? What preceded it, and what will come after? These questions will someday provide great consternation for the Bitomites, as well as limitless employment for their philosophers, puddleographers and puddleologists. For that matter, why should there be a puddle at all, and why so conveniently supplied with pieces of Bitomite, and with the exact conditions necessary for their assembly? But for our purposes here, we shall regard these questions as unanswereable, or at least unlikely to be answered during the span of your reading.
So. There comes a point in the puddle’s expansion when a large number of Bitomites appear, suddenly and spontaneously, and while not all the raw materials are consumed in the process, the great majority of them are. Consequently, the water is greatly clarified, and as the Bitomites open their little eyes and blink in bewilderment at the world around them, they obey their most basic instinct and begin swimming toward one another to spawn.
But the pond is expanding, yes? Filling with rain? Their speed of travel is inherently limited by the friction of the surrounding medium, and so on the whole they find themselves drawing farther apart rather than closer. Poor Bitomites! The best they can do is form little clouds, dwarfed by the empty waters surrounding, and slowly fight their way inward, toward a center they can feel but not see.
Finally a few of them manage to stick together, and then a few more, until the waters are speckled with little black dots floating loose among the clouds. And then, as their collective body heat finds fewer and fewer avenues of escape, the communal balls one by one exceed the threshold temperature above which the Bitomites are induced — indeed, compelled! — to mate.
Fiat lux: bioluminescence begins, and the puddle flares with orgy lights. And as the Bitomites find one another, they come together in a strange way — their promiscuous immunity drawing no distinction between “self” and “other”, and thus presenting no barrier to the absolute merger of bodies. Two Bitomites become one, and the resulting flash of light and hormones raises the ardor of the ones who haven’t yet found a partner. Lust begets lust — as lust will do! — and so the process accelerates.
Now, members of this second generation of Bitomites — whom we will call Sophomores — are heavier than the members of the first generation — the Freshmen — each Sophomore being made up of the remnants of its two parents, along with other materials collected randomly from the water. Slower moving, the Sophomores tend to cluster in the center of the swarm while their smaller peers (or elders, if you prefer) continue to mate on the periphery. This goes on for quite some time, but as the population of Sophomores rises and its members come into increasingly heated and intimate contact, eventually their little subcolony within the swarm is ready to mate as well.
Hey, baby! Hey, baby!
Are the Sophomores more adventurous than their forebears? More lecherous? More emotionally needy? They may bump and grind in pairs, but it takes three of them to do the deed for real, and the Junior offspring they produce weigh many times more than the original Bitomites did (and do, for there are large numbers of Freshmen hanging around the periphery of the swarm, still looking for a date). And here’s where it starts to get really complex, because when two Juniors combine, they can not only produce four different kinds of Senior offspring, each with its own distinctive mass and major and lifestyle choice, but they sometimes also regurgitate one of their perfectly intact parents or grandparents in the process!
Welcome back, Mom.
Moreover, these Seniors are more than capable of mating with Freshmen and Sophomores in complex ways, and they do so with great vigor, producing such a variety of Masters within the swarm that we must wonder how compatible partners manage to find one another at all. Indeed, while the process of mating is more energetic at this stage, it happens less and less frequently.
Such is the fate of aging societies, alas.
Within this kaleidoscopic fifth generation, only one possible pairing produces offspring heavier than its parents. These are the Doctors, and while their offspring are even more varied — call them Lawyers, Accountants, Engineers, etc. — the most numerous among them are the Professors. These are sessile, contemplative creatures who, even when fully surrounded by swarming and amorous students, are quite incapable of mating.
“We consider ourselves above such squelchiness”, one Professor Magnus Ironicus famously quipped. “Let the students have their heat and fun; sooner or later they’ll wear themselves out. We’re the end of their line, and we shall welcome each of them among us in due course.”
However kindly these words may seem, there’s an undeniable menace behind them — the languid arrogance of an immovable object in the path of an ultimately resistible force. And yet, just when things seem to be settling down within the swarm, instabilities have begun which will, in due course, not only scatter the gathered bodies back into their parent cloud, but touch off a mosh pit of sweaty collision — one hesitates to call it mating — in which the press of bodies can force even the Professors together with one another, or with smaller Bitomites, to form a bewildering variety of heavy, sterile offspring — the Graduates — who go on to form cold but exquisitely complex societies of their own.
(Whole libraries have been composed on that subject, so we’ll say nothing further about it here, except that you likely owe your own existence to it.)
According to the more prophetic branches of Bitomite philosophy, however, the Professors will nevertheless rule the puddle some day, for the Graduates have limited lifespans. Some of these are quite long — indeed, some Graduates can only be destroyed by mating with a student in the heat of an orgy swarm, or in the innards or outards of some other pond dweller who cares little for the Bitomial consequences of its own activity. (A nuclear reactor, say, or a particle accelerator, or a pondic ray from elsewhere in the puddle.)
But in any case, the “death” of a Graduate means the birth or rebirth of smaller Bitomites, who if they are sterile must themselves die someday, and if they are vital must someday take part in the complex mating ritual, of which Professors are the logical endpoint.
Check and mate, or so it would seem. Herr Professor über alles.
But in nearly every puddle of Kosm there are creatures so vastly much larger than the Bitomites that mere philosophy can scarcely be aware of them. In fact, these creatures are Bitomites in the strictest sense, having been created in the final paroxysms of the mating swarm. But the similarity ends there, for these entities — call them Corporations and, in the most extreme cases, Political Parties — are capable of swallowing student and professor and graduate alike, smooshing them permanently into collectives which no known force can break apart and from which, in the case of Political Parties, no information can escape.
But on a final note, there are peculiar things that can happen in a rain puddle when it gets old and big and thin enough, when the seasons change, when the surface of the water is disturbed. The Bitomites may presume to know their future, but unless all the contents of the puddle are known, along with all the myriad forces acting within and upon it, who among them can so prognosticate, without sooner or later playing the fool? Indeed, who can say that the Professors might not someday learn to dance, and thus give birth to miracles yet undreamed?
Meanwhile, as long as the Freshmen continue to frolic with one another, and with the Seniors, the puddle remains a realm of ever-expanding possibility, within which an infinity of stories can be told in each passing moment — including this one. Enjoy.
Copyright Wil McCarthy