Love & Supernova 8 - Wake Up Call

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What you whisper now, tomorrow people will shout from the roofs of their homes old proverb.

It is the year 3051. The free state of Betelgeuse has elections, as it has in every five Earth years. Every town choses its sheriff and the whole population votes to chose its ruler. The elected dictator will rule with nearly absolute powers for five Earth years. After that, it will be judged in a public trial for all what it has done. It is forbidden for the same dictator to return to politic life in any way.

Elections are electronic, everyone votes using the online panels that are in the center of every town. After the last vote is recorded, within minutes, come the result. With 48%, the new elected dictator is Ophelia Leon. Without any ceremony, the former dictator, Caligula XII (on its former name Angel Bennett) takes the iron crown from its head and gives it to Ophelia, which becomes Caligula XIII. They all wear the name Caligula after the man who terraformed Betelgeuse VII and wrote the constitution for the new state. It is a day for celebrations, but tomorrow the new dictator will start working.

It is important to remember that Betelgeuse VII is a paradise for transgender people and rare sexual minorities. Here, such people represent the majority. Caligula XII is a female transgender and a eterophile (a person who loves love itself, not a person or an object). Caligula XIII, on the other hand, was born as a woman and is a transgender hermaphrodite and an onanist. She is in love with its own body, not with someone else. Since it is hard to define the gender of a person here, the words he and she are usually replaced with the most simple form, it.

The rise of hermaphrodites in Betelgeuse VII started early, when the children born here, all used to practice cross-dressing from a very young age, reached the age when they can request the use of hormones, implants and surgery. A large number opted to transform their bodies, but also a significant part of them realized that they want to reverse the transformation. As a compromise, came the idea of hermaphrodites. Having both male and female organs, they can now live between both genders. Surprisingly, about 73% of teens accepted and wanted to transform their bodies this way. With smaller breasts and wearing both male and female organs, they can have it altogether. Also, by keeping the organs they were born with, they are still able to mate and have children.

Two days after taking power, Caligula XIII is in its room, on the iron throne, receiving audiences. It wears a long yellow and purple dress, reaching the ground. The form of its breasts is visible through the dress. Long black gloves covers its arms. Its hair is dark brown and long, with the old, iron crown on the head. This crown has been worn by all dictators. It always keeps an eye on the many online panels in the throne room, which allows it to see what is going on the planet and to contact any state employee anytime. Audiences take a lot of time. Each time the dictator considers that the solution was found, it says 'dismissed' and the next person waiting enters in audition.

Surprisingly, at the next audition, comes the former dictator, Caligula XII. It has short blonde hair and a short yellow dress, shiny pantyhose, high-heel yellow shoes and its arms full with bracelets.

"You?" says the ruling dictator, surprised. "What brings you here?"

"I will not start with 'your highness' since a few days ago I was on that throne. I am here for a more personal request".

"How can I help you?"

"Our first dictator, Caligula II, is dead. It died twelve days before the elections".

"Oh, I am very sorry. May peace be upon its soul. I think a funeral would be required".

"No, it is not about that", says the former dictator. "Caligula II will be buried by its own children, that was its will. But, it wanted the dictator in charge to take care about the remnants of its tree, that was burned before it came to Betelgeuse VII. There are a few personal things. Please, come after audiences to the Caligula memorial park".

"What is with the tree?"

"Caligula II was a panophile and that tree was its love. It wanted that after its death, the ruling dictator to burry the carbonized remnants of the tree".

"So, that is in the forbidden building, in the park".

"Yes, the remnants of the tree. I was too close to the elections and I had not the time to do its will".

"Ok, I get it", says the ruling dictator. "But shouldn't we do a large, public ceremonial for this?"

"Caligula II wanted it not to be public, we will just burry the tree and that's all. Please, come to the memorial park after the audiences".

**********

At evening, both dictators come to the park. They know that the press is somewhere around, trying to take a picture of what is going on. The whole planet would like to hear about Caligula II's secret love, about the dead tree that was kept secret for such a long time inside the forbidden building. They would like to take pictures from the inside, a thing that was never allowed.

So, they go inside the building and take a look. Yes, close to the entrance door, there is a piece of carbonized wood, placed on a glass support. But the building is far larger and there are many other things.

"Come here", says the former dictator. "It is not the wood that I wanted to show you, it is this. Look! These are the real results from the research Caligula I conducted on the sun. He lied us all. Betelgeuse will not survive 400000 years. It is about a few thousand years, as I can see".

"Are you serious? Show me!"

They go and look. On plasticized paper, all data is displayed. Measurements reveal that Betelgeuse has an inert core. Helium fusion has ceased in there. The star is awaiting to start fusing carbon, but this process lasts for only 600 years. Then, it will fuse neon, oxygen, magnesium and silicon, in a succession that will not last 30 years at all. And then, when all is converted to iron, the star will die in a supernova. The question that remains, is how long it will take until carbon fusion starts.

The former dictator shows plasticized paper, while the ruling one looks shocked at all data.

"Well, all this data is 100 Earth years old", says the ruling dictator. "And still it looks inaccurate. Maybe it is not as bad as it looks... or maybe it's worse. Maybe carbon fusion has already started and we don't know yet".

"If that is, we lave less then 600 Earth years from now".

They keep on looking on all papers, over and over, then look at two different measurements. One shows that there are 3 inert zones that separate 3 fusion areas. The inner core looks inert, followed by a fusion shell, followed by another inert zone and a second fusion shell, then a third inert area and a third fusion place. What can that be? Is the star fusing carbon already? Was Betelgeuse fusing carbon 100 ears ago? With an inert core waiting to fuse neon? Oh no! If that's the case, there are less then 20 Earth years left.

"What should we do?" they both ask, as they light a cigarette inside the dark, cold room.

"First thing I want is to find out what the truth is", says the ruling dictator. "I want to talk with an expert in stellar evolution and do some measurements. But all must go unofficial. If anyone finds out, it will be a powerful shock wave".

"I wanted to do the same, but I had only twelve days left. So, I prefer to handle it to you".

"I don't think I can handle all this. I need your help. You know that I am monitored. I will try to divert some funds to you but you have to do the work".

"Not a problem. I am willing to help".

Both dictators exit the building, carrying the carbonized wood fragment. The press films it all.

"Are we allowed to film inside the building?" asks one reporter.

"No, not now", answers the ruling dictator. "The building will be opened for public, but not now. We have to burry the tree in a forest, where other trees will grow from its ash".

**********

The following is a crash-course introduction to stellar evolution.

What is actually going on inside a bright star like Betelgeuse? At first, like any star, it was fusing hydrogen into helium, in the core. Most of the lifetime of a star is spent in this phase.

Then, comes the subgiant phase, when there is no more hydrogen in the core and the star is fusing hydrogen in a shell surrounding the inert core. As fusion occurs closer to the surface, the star gently increases its brightness, but not too much. As long as the inert core is small enough, it can be heated by the surrounding hydrogen flame.

Each star loses part of its energy with the help of a small subatomic particle, the neutrino. The Sun loses less then 3% of its energy because of this. All stars produce a certain amount of neutrino. Usually, they are produced when a proton merges with an electron to form a neutron, but, if the temperature is high enough, neutrinos are produced in many other ways. Basically, they steal some of the heat in the core. Neutrinos travel through matter without interacting much with it. They travel from the core of a star through its outer layers and even through nearby planets unnoticed. Nobody feels their effects, except for high-tech detectors.

It is the neutrinos that cool the inert core of a star. Without this energy loss, the core would survive for far longer, heated by the surrounding shell.

When the core reaches a critical mass, it cannot be heated by the hydrogen fusing shell. So, it contracts, increasing its inner pressure and temperature, until helium starts fusing into carbon. Helium fusion requires a much higher temperature then hydrogen fusion. Because of this, the core will radiate far more heat, so the reaction must go on faster, to keep the core hot enough, preventing its collapse. However, one kg of helium produces only one tenth the energy produced by one kg of hydrogen. And because helium fusion has to occur much faster, it lasts far less time. The increased heat in the core forces hydrogen fusion to occur also on a higher rate. Overall, the star radiates a lot more heat and it inflates, becoming a red giant (or supergiant, in case of Betelgeuse). On the other hand, not 3% but roughly 10% of energy is lost through neutrinos.

A human, knowing that it has less energy, will try to conserve it. Well, in case of stars, things go right the opposite way. Helium produces 10% the energy hydrogen produced, but it lasts for only 1% that time, because it is fused much faster and the star radiates far more heat.

At first, helium is fused into carbon, but as there is less helium available, it starts to combine with carbon and forms oxygen, at higher temperatures. This can be seen as the star gently increases its brightness and size.

But, then, the core runs out of helium and is made of carbon and oxygen. Still, surrounding the core, there is a helium fusion shell, surrounded by a layer of inert helium, then by a shell where hydrogen is fused. For a while, the inert core is still heated by the surrounding shell, but not forever. Neutrinos carry the heat out from the core, so, when the helium fusion shell is too far away, there is no heat reaching through.

At some point, the inert core contracts until it reaches the pressure and temperature needed for carbon fusion. Carbon is fused into neon and magnesium, releasing far less energy then helium. Again, because the core is a lot hotter, it radiates more and requires more energy to remain hot. Carbon would be enough to keep the core hot for a few thousand years, but much of the energy is lost through neutrinos. So, the star has to fuse more carbon to compensate the loss. As a result, the process lasts for only 600 years. During this phase, the core produces more energy and forces the surrounding helium and hydrogen fusion shells to expand. However, because carbon fusion is short lived, the star does not increase its brightness too much. So, there is almost no way to know if carbon is fused inside, by only looking at the outside.

When carbon is almost exhausted, it fuses with oxygen or neon, but this process is short lived. Then, fusion continues in a shell surrounding the inert core, containing oxygen, neon and magnesium.

It can be said that a giant star has 3 lives. During the first life, it fuses hydrogen, during the second it fuses helium and during the third it fuses carbon. But the end is not quite here. The core contracts again until it reaches temperatures needed to fuse neon into oxygen and magnesium. This new fusion lasts for only one year, because almost all the energy is lost through neutrinos. Again, the core contracts and fuses oxygen into silicon. Oxygen would produce enough energy to keep the star alive for a thousand years, but most is lost as neutrino radiation, so it lasts less then an year. Finally, magnesium is fused into oxygen and silicon (while produced oxygen is also fused into silicon), but this will only last a few weeks. All these processes end-up with a massive production of silicon.

Finally, the core contracts one last time and starts to fuse silicon into iron. But, even if the reaction would produce enough energy, neutrino production is so high that all silicon in the core is fused in only one Earth day, hardly delaying the inevitable. Then, the core tries to contract again, to transform iron into something else, but this time, it consumes energy instead of producing it. The star is doomed and a supernova is on its way.

When the core of a star runs out of carbon, there is little time left. If we count the time when the core is heated by its nearby fusing shells, the time when nuclear reactions occur and the time when it is contracting, overall, there cannot be more then 15 years from when neon fusion starts until supernova. Also, the inert carbon core cannot survive for more then 100 years before neon fusion starts.

**********

They burry the tree fragment in a forest, in an unknown place, just as Caligula II wanted to happen. Both dictators decide to meet tomorrow evening in a secluded place and work for a solution.

That night, Caligula XIII, the dictator in charge, cannot sleep. What can be done? How can you see what is going on inside a star? Outside, the sky is illuminated by auroras, like always. The powerful solar wind impacts planet's magnetic field and creates bright colors in the night sky. It lights a cigarette, then another one. Then, comes with a solution. Is there a person that can be trusted? Is there anyone that can do the work without telling anyone and not get public attention?

Finally, the sky changes color in red, as dawn is approaching. The dictator remembers the only person which is worthy for such a mission: its brother, Delta, who also undergone body transformation and is a hermaphrodite. It writes a letter on a disk, with the instructions required. Delta has a huge passion for Astronomy. Since they were children, they used to talk for hours about stars and planets. Delta always argued that there are many mineral resources on the asteroids in Betelgeuse system and that mining them would be a far cheaper and less harmful alternative for the environment then mining resources on the planet itself.

Early in the morning, it calls its brother, saying: "Come to the first hour for an audience, it is important". So, it comes and listens how Caligula XIII gives short instructions:

"You always said that mining the asteroids will be a better option for our world. My predecessor had this plan, but had not the time to develop it. So, it is now all up to me. I give you this disk with some instructions. Also, I give you funding to carry on your measurements. Go and start as fast as you can. The former dictator, Caligula XII, will join you, for further briefing. Once you live this building, you go to its house with the disk and start working. Dismissed!"

Without any questions, Delta goes to Caligula XII's house and knocks at the door, having no idea what this could be. The door opens and the former dictator, with a yellow dress on, appears. Delta is dressed with a short black dress, short black hair, black sun glasses and open-toe flat shoes.

"Greetings! I am Delta, brother of Caligula XIII. My sister gave me this disk and told me to work with you in asteroid mining".

"Please call me Angel", says the former dictator. "Let's see what is on the disk".

They both look, but Delta has a scared face.

"You mean, the sun will explode soon? Oh mine! If that happens, we are all doomed! What should we do?"

"Delta, we don't know anything yet, but we have to find out soon".

"I know".

"Well, if the sun is getting ready to explode, what can we possibly do to save it?"

"Nothing. There is no way we could do something. And even if it were, we lack the technology. Basically, the sun is running out of fuel. If we somehow manage to insert hydrogen in its core, all its energy will be lost through neutrinos. It will only delay its death by a few years... if things are as seen here. And piercing all the way to the dense core, at huge temperatures and pressures, is almost impossible. But first, we need to do some measurements, to see what is going on inside".

"How can we do that, Delta?"

"There is only one subatomic particle that can pierce through matter, even through stars and planets. That particle is the neutrino. Basically, we have to build a neutrino telescope to look at what Betelgeuse is throwing at us, since all stars produce neutrinos. Each fusion reaction comes with its own neutrino emission, which can tell us what is going on there. Also, we can build a neutrino emitter in space and send a jet of particles through the star, to the telescope. By analyzing how they change energy and are diverted, we know what is inside the star. Well this is the theory, but in practice, such telescopes and emitters are rare and only used by a few scientific corporations. There is almost no other way to see inside a star".

"Well, this is our only chance. Do it! No matter how much it costs, do it!"

**********

Since there is no technology like that on Betelgeuse VII, the only way is to contact someone from another place. If Delta decides to go to the Old World, where most of settlers come, people will find out and will prefer not co come here. So, Delta looks to the Pleiades. There, a powerful empire has colonized and terraformed hundreds of planets. Maybe, they have the technology. And why not? It is there, in places unconnected with the Old World, that cutting-edge technology is developed without the rest of the Universe even knowing it. So, Delta goes to its sister, dictator Caligula VIII, to request money and a fast spaceship for the trip. The deal is accepted.

TO BE CONTINUED



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