There is no such thing as "after hours" on Ixange. The bridges know neither day nor night. The world is in a perpetual soft twilight, illuminated by glowing metal on the bottom of more or less every bridge.
"What is that stuff?" demanded Eric.
Trocky shrugged. We have been seeing a lot of Trocky. The three of us (Hditr, Eric, and I) had rented a small furnished one-bedroom apartment. I slept in the coat closet, since none of us had any coats. Eric haunted the couch in the the public room, which served as kitchen, dining room, living room, screening room, card-playing room, and howling room. Hditr had taken over the bedroom, using its privacy to irritate, violate, mutilate, and disintegrate her vow of chastity — getting fully pregnant again, as badger-women are most comfortable being, and enjoying long grooming sessions with Trocky and others.
Hditr never did anything ("or anyone", as she always added) without a good reason.
Aside: Hditr's Excuses
- He's the same caste as me so it's OK.
- I experienced a moment of weakness brought on by the scent of lavender
- His caste marks are not recognizable, so it's OK.
- He hypnotized me — with Science
- I experienced a moment of weakness brought on by the taste of grilled earthworms
- We were praying to Hythace at the moment of intromission, so it's OK.
- The Grand Recorder on Nurki will never find out about it, so it doesn't count.
- He hypnotized me — with his sophisticated sensuous suave squiggliness
- I experienced a moment of weakness brought on by a surfeit of spiced cheese
- I kept a hood over my caste marks, so he's not going to complain, is he?
- He hypnotized me — with buttermilk
- I'll write a note to the Grand Recorder on Nurki and do the right penance so it won't matter. (She never did.)
- I experienced a moment of weakness brought on by the intense taupe color of the walls.
- He hypnotized me — with moonlight. (Me: But Ixange doesn't have a moon.) (Hditr: Well, he had written the moonlight down from his home world).
Anyhow, Trocky shrugged. "The bottom side of every bridge is lined with luminium."
"You know aluminium, don't you?" she asked. He did of course. "Well, just like the name says, it's a- (not) + lumin- (light) + -ium (metal). The non-light metal. Luminium is the once-strange version of aluminium. So it's the light metal, the glowing metal. It, um, glows."
"Strange. What, precisely, do you mean by strange? How many stranges are there, if this 'luminum' of which you speak is once-strange?" asked Eric.
I do not understand any of this. Eric says that the first half of it is probably completely reasonable (except that changing one law of physics is like trying to eat one peanut — I don't know what he means by that — he can't eat any peanuts — and Hditr says that it's like trying to eat one penis — and I am totally lost). And that the second half is totally ridiculous.
The Reasonable Part (according to Eric): The Λ0 particle is stable. There is probably some conservation law around protecting it. It behaves basically like a neutron, glomming into nuclei. So every atom has three relevant numbers: charge and atomic weight, just like on Earth, and strangeness equal to number of Λ particles in the nucleus.
The Unreasonable Part (according to Eric): Elements with nonzero strangeness behave strangely. (That sentence is the only sentence that makes any sense to me, so of course it's the place where Eric starts to complain.) Aluminium has 13 protons and 14 neutrons. Luminium has 13 protons, 13 neutrons, and one Λ, making it chemically the same as aluminium, but strange. Its strangeness is that it glows. The more strangeness, the stranger an element is. Carbon with six protons and six neutrons is not strange. Maximally strange carbon, Carpun, with six protons and six Λs responds to wordplay. Diamonds made of carpun are very valuable to wizards.
Well, the last sentence is obviously true and truly obvious too. Diamonds that respond to wordplay are valuable to wizards.
"So the luminium coating on the bridges glows...? Without any source of energy?" asked Eric.
"Yes," said Trocky.
"Where does the energy come from?" asked Eric.
"From the luminium," said Trocky.
"What about the law of conservation of energy?" asked Eric.
"Doesn't apply to strange materials," said Trocky. "Your burny-mouthed lizard is full of Λs."
"I sure am!" I said proudly. "I had lambda chops for breakfast!" This was the wrong thing to say, and I got mocked about it later.
"If you wanted to keep your law of conservation of energy, you shoulda not offended that death god," noted Hditr.
Eric retreated into the couch.