“So what does it mean to be alive?” Zach smiled at Emily on meeting her that first day of biology class. She’d attended the class; he had not. He’d noticed her book on the table, the one in the sun outside the food court. His favorite table.
He’d been attending classes at the university for years, for free. He never actually paid tuition and wasn’t seeking a degree. He just liked learning stuff. He did it by becoming friends with the paying customers and studying with them. If the professors seemed good, he’d attend classes sometimes. The professors were so overjoyed that someone was there out of interest, they didn’t much mind.
Biology seemed interesting.
“Well, let’s see what I can remember without looking at my notes.” She took a draw on her smoothie and stared off into the distance, somewhere above and to the left of nowhere. “Cells, for sure. DNA.” She paused, started rummaging through her backpack.
“Sex?” He liked getting a feel for his new friends quickly. He grinned at her when he said it.
“No, thanks.” She gave him a deadpan Mona Lisa in response. “Although I think reproduction might be there, passing along of the genetic information. It ain’t all about sex.”
“Response to stimuli?” He smiled again. He actually remembered quite a bit from his high school biology class, it had been fun, his teacher a good one.
That one got her. She smiled back. “Ah yes. And that’s part of maintenance of a relatively stable internal environment; homeostasis. Cell membranes are good for that.”
“But that requires a lot of energy, doesn’t it?” He liked this girl, already, quite a lot. She was pretty in kind of an off kilter way, and smart, and kind of droll. He was sure they’d be friends.
“Ah yes, metabolism, those chemical reactions. Energy. It’s necessary to maintain all that complex cellular structure, and to grow, and develop.” She was enjoying it as much as he was.
“And evolve?” He gave her a few eyebrow lifts, trying to look smart.
“Individuals don’t really evolve, we acclimate.” She sighed. “Populations do though. Gene pools and species change over time. But individuals do show adaptations that are the result of evolution. Or at least we used to. We seem to have mucked things up a little by changing the environment so quickly.”
Emily had grown rather dismayed by humanity. She was just starting out life as an adult, had just turned eighteen and was in her first semester at the local state university. She’d kind of hoped she could see some human evolution during her lifetime. What she’d learned so far didn’t make it look all that promising.
“Oh, don’t be so cynical. Human beings are pretty cool in all kinds of ways. And one of the things you’ll learn along the way is that words have lots of different meanings, words like evolution, and there’s lots of different ways to look at things and to know stuff.”
Zach really was a philosopher. He’d been homeless for years and lived on campus, crashing here and there in relative comfort. It was really easy, there were always students sleeping on campus, lots of extra food around, and pretty much any time he showed up in a classroom and showed interest, the professors loved him. He met so many pretty women it was incredible, and made lots of great friends. He was a minor legend on campus.
“What’s your major?” Emily decided she liked him. He was one of the first guys she’d met so far that she had found really attractive, and she wasn’t quite sure why. Maybe the smile. Or the attitude. He had a lot of charm, but it was totally authentic.
“Life.” He smiled at her. “But not Biology, like you.” The textbook was one of those monstrosities that probably cost more money than Zach had seen in years all in one place. It looked like the kind that pre-med students could afford, although he wasn’t sure he’d peg this one as a pre-med. She looked more like the world saving, tree hugger type.
“Life, huh. Well, I guess that’s a pretty good thing to learn about. What kinds of courses have you taken?” Em figured she might as well find a good study buddy. This guy looked like he’d been around for a while, maybe he could help with some of the stuff she wasn’t that great with. She liked talking about stuff she learned in school, always had. To her, that was kind of the point.
“Oh, all kinds of stuff. Philosophy and political science and history and anthropology and sociology, that kind of stuff. Mostly fun stuff. I’m ready for something more challenging. Want to help me learn biology?” The smile.
“Sure. What kind of political science and who’d you have?” The course in comparative political systems that was the elective that fit with her schedule that semester promised to be slow and painful torture to her, based on the syllabus and what she’d seen so far.
“Comparative Systems, with Dillbeck. He’s actually pretty cool if you get him off on a rant. I can help with that.” Again, the grin.
“Perfect.” She grinned back. Dillbeck was the guy, and she couldn’t possibly imagine him ranting, he was five two and looked like Yoda. If Zach could teach her what she needed to know to make that class more interesting, she definitely wanted to get to know him better. “Want to go learn about the scientific method?”
Studying with Emily was going to be fun.
Linda Brooke Stabler, Ph.D.