As the Worlds Turn

by

Douglas Neman

"Incoming!" Mars shouted, a bit too gleefully for Earth's liking.

"Huh?" Earth looked up. "Are you talking to me- ow!" The asteroid struck Earth's edge, throwing parts of her molten form into space. "I was using that!" she protested.

"Not any more," Venus said.

"Damn," Mars muttered. "Missed."

"I heard that," Earth snapped. "You want me fragmented into another asteroid field, don't you?"

"Me?" Mars replied innocently. "Never."

"Well, we've already got one, thanks to Jupiter. I don't want to become another!"

"It's not my fault he didn't form!" Jupiter yelled, and being so large, he could be pretty loud. "At least, it wasn't intentional. Stop blaming me!"

"No one is," Saturn said tiredly. "You just think we are whenever we mention it. Guilt, much?"

"I just lost a part of myself," Earth whined. "Doesn't anyone want to take pity on me?"

"No," came eight replies.

"Whoa-ho, what's this!" Earth exclaimed triumphantly. "Check it out! That part of me that got chucked into space is forming a new moon! I never realized what I was missing! I don't wobble any more! I'm going to have a stable ecosystem! Eat it, Mars, you dizzy freak! Ha ha!"

Mars just scowled, trying to keep his balance as he wobbled on his axis.

"You shouldn't brag so much, Earth," Venus said.

"I'm not bragging," Earth replied. "Bragging is when you accomplish something. I just got lucky, so I'm gloating. There's a difference."

"We're all so young!" comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 said as he sped past. "Anything can happen. You dodged this one, Earth, but can you keep dodging forever? You might get hit with one of those asteroids that Jupiter so callously created!" The comet snickered.

"Laugh it up, snowball!" Jupiter shot back. "I said it's not my fault!"

Saturn sighed. "Stop taking the bait, Jupiter. He's going to do that to you every time. The only way to deal with it is to ignore him."

"That's easy for you to say. You're not the one he picks on."

"Why should he pick on you at all?" Pluto asked. "You're bigger than the rest of us combined! Just swat him, already."

Neptune glowered at Pluto. "Speaking of dirty snowballs which need swatting..."

"Ah, Jupiter's all thunder and no lightning," a tiny asteroid piped up.

"Huh?" Jupiter swung around. "Who are you?"

"I'm 291 Alice, and I think you're a wimp, Jupiter!"

Jupiter growled. "One of these days, Alice...BANG! Straight to the moon!"

"Um...which moon?"

Jupiter glowered menacingly at her. "Any moon."

Alice gulped and shut up. But Shoemaker-Levy 9 was not dissuaded. "Ah, you'll never do anything to me!"

"Don't count on it, snowball," Jupiter replied thoughtfully. (He was maturing as his body coalesced into its permanent form.) "As you yourself said, we're still young. Anything can happen."

"That'll be the millenium!" Shoemaker-Levy 9 shouted.

"Hey, everyone!" Pluto called out. "Neptune and I are being mooned. Get it? Ha ha!"

Neptune sighed. "Please, Pluto, just do us all a favor and spontaneously combust. I don't care if it violates the laws of physics, just do it already."

Pluto ignored her. "Now, I don't want to say who it is that's doing the mooning-"

"That won't stop you," Mars said tiredly.

"-but she's between Saturn and Neptune!"

Sure enough, there was their sister, tilting back, showing everyone her poles and rolling along on her rings and equator.

"Hey, Uranus, what's the matter?" Saturn asked.

"I don't feel well," Uranus replied. "I just need to lie down."

Peering in that direction, Earth asked, "Is there something wrong with you, too, Pluto? I see double vision when I look at you."

"That's because there are two of me," Pluto replied indignantly. "I have a twin named Charon, but...she doesn't say much."

Charon was quiet for a moment, then meekly said, "Hey."

"If you want to worry about someone, Earth, I suggest you spend more time worrying about Mercury," Pluto said. "He goes so fast I get dizzy just watching him."

"I was dizzy at first, myself," Mercury said, "but I think I got the hang of this."

"Hey, Mercury, it's rude to face the wrong direction when you talk to others," Venus said.

"The wrong direction?" Mercury asked nervously. "What are you talking about?"

"Well, you're always facing Dad," Earth replied. "But we're out here."

"I know you're back there. What can I do about it?"

"You mean...you can't revolve?" Venus asked.

Mercury's voice grew sad. "I don't know how."

The others laughed hysterically.

"It's not funny!" Mercury retorted. "At first, I thought the rest of you were like this, too – only able to see towards Dad. But then as I listened to all of you, I realized that it was just me, but I didn't want to say anything!"

The others continued howling with laughter.

"STOP IT, EVERYONE," Dad roared.

They stopped. When a nuclear inferno 1.5 million kilometers across tells you to do something, you do it.

"MERCURY IS TIDALLY LOCKED. IT'S NOT HIS FAULT. NOW QUIET DOWN – IT'S MY NAP TIME."

"Yes, sir," Venus answered for all of them.

"Everyone knows that the theory of revolution is controversial, anyway," Pluto said.

Neptune gritted her teeth. "Pluto..." she warned.

"What does tidally locked mean?" Earth asked.

"It means Mercury always faces the center of his orbit," Jupiter replied. "His front always faces Dad, and his rear always faces away. Your own moon is like that, Earth. You can only see one side of it."

Earth looked at her own moon. "Hey, yeah! You're right! I never noticed that before."

"Smooth, genius," Earth's moon responded. "Did I really come from you?"

"I brought you into this system," Earth retorted, "and I can take you back out."

"Hey, Jupiter, how come you know this stuff?" Saturn asked.

"One must know these things if one is to be king."

"King?" Neptune asked softly, amazement in her voice. The other planets didn't say a word. Mars coughed pointedly.

"Excuse me, but I am the biggest," Jupiter said haughtily.

"Who died and put you in charge?" Saturn asked.

"The asteroid belt."

"Oh, that was low!" Shoemaker-Levy 9 exclaimed.

"Shut up, S-L 9," Jupiter said. "You comets have no say in our system, anyway."

"We comets are always excluded from governmental decisions!" Shoemaker-Levy 9 exclaimed. "But we outnumber you planets by a factor of trillions!"

"It's not the numbers, it's the mass," Saturn said snootily.

"Of course you'd say that," Shoemaker-Levy 9 retorted. "But all you guys do is throw your weight around! It's not fair!"

"Remind me to melt some water so I can shed a tear for you some day," Mars said.

"I wouldn't even do that much," Jupiter said. "But one day, snowball, there will be a reckoning."

"King Jupes – kiss my ice."

"He's not king!" Saturn said, a bit defensively.

"I'm king of the asteroids!" Ceres piped up.

"Well, allow me to pop a volcano in your honor," Mars said.

Ceres scowled and knocked a couple of smaller asteroids, Phobos and Deimos, in Mars's direction, and said, "Don't mock my position. It's the only source of self-esteem I have."

"Ceresly?" Pluto asked. "That's so sad."

Neptune flashed some lightning. "I'll name as king anyone who gives their life by smashing into Pluto," she growled.

Only Earth took Neptune seriously. Puzzled, she said, "I don't think anyone's going to take you up on that."

Mars deftly caught Phobos and Deimos and swung them into orbit around himself as his new moons.

"Enough!" Jupiter snapped. "We need to get Mercury to revolve."

Pluto sang, "You say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world."

"It's all right," Mercury said, straining to pull himself around. "I think I got it. It's a slow revolution, but it'll work."

"Hey, nice to finally meet you," Venus said.

"Now, it's time for me to get my moon to do the same!" Earth said excitedly.

"Why?" Earth's moon asked, and promptly went to sleep. Earth scowled.

Mars said, "Speaking of revolving, you're rotating the wrong way, Venus."

"I must be different. It's an artistic thing. You wouldn't understand."

"Brrrrr," Mercury shivered. "How do you guys stand it? No offense, I love you and all, but all that heat on my front felt good. It doesn't feel right to have my rear hot and my front frozen; it needs to be the other way around. Sorry guys, but I'm comfortable where I was." Mercury turned to toast himself again. "Ahhhh, better. But it sure is bright. I need sunglasses."

"And I need a fair say in how this place is run!" Shoemaker-Levy 9 said.

"Oh, give it a rest!" Saturn complained.

"Don't be upset about being left out, SL-9," Earth said. "Get active! Every n   an  ak  a   fferen       "

The others all tilted slightly on their axes and stared curiously at Earth as her voice slowly drained away. "What happened?" Saturn asked.

"Snowball Earth!" Mars exclaimed. "She got hit with the runaway ice virus! We can't hear a word she says! Oh, sweet times are finally here!"

"Don't get too excited," Venus said. "With no rain, her carbon dioxide's building up. The greenhouse effect will melt the ice again in a few million years. Believe me, I know all about that stuff."

Mars sighed with ecstasy. "Don't ruin my millenium, Venus. I'm in heaven and I'm not coming down."

"Sibling of System Sol, silly sister, strangely silent, soft with snow," said Pluto poetically, then turned to Uranus. "This is a poem of S's. Now it's your turn!"

"Stuff it," Uranus snapped.

"That works."

"Hey, everyone," Neptune said. "Now that Earth has finally shut up, can the rest of you hear that?"

Listening intently, they heard a very faint but definite, "Hello!"

"Where's it coming from?" Uranus asked.

Neptune shouted into the depths, "Who are you?"

"I'm Eris!" came the faint reply. At least, that's what it sounded like.

"I see her!" Pluto said, shooting some icicles in the direction of the voice. Peering into the distance, they could barely make out their sister.

"Eros?" Neptune shouted back. "You mean, like erotic? Like love and sex and stuff?"

"No!" came the furious reply, followed by a string of curse words.

"Wow," Jupiter said, taken aback. "Kind of saucy, isn't she?"

"Well, if it's not Eros, then we must have misunderstood," Saturn said.

"What's your name?" Neptune shouted, but the reply was too faint to understand.

"She seems to hear us better than we can hear her," Saturn said. "How is that?"

"She's downwind," said Jupiter.

"Oh. Right."

"What's your name?" Neptune shouted again, but again, the reply was very faint.

"It sounded like she said, 'Xena,'" Pluto said. He shouted back, "Is your name Xena?"

This time the reply was an explosion of profanity such as they had never heard before. Neptune altered her orbit, Uranus flipped her poles and laid down in the other direction, Saturn's rings split into sections, and Jupiter got a great big red spot. The profanity ended with what sounded like, "E-R-I-S, dammit!"

"Eeareayeessdammit?" Mars asked. "What a strange name."

"Good gravy!" Neptune exclaimed. "Where did our dear sister learn such language?"

"Probably from objects in the Oort cloud," said Halley's Comet, one of the nicer comets in the system. "You've never met them, but I have. That's a bad neighborhood, and they're a rough bunch. Xena must have met some of them."

"You mean our sister's so far away that she's fallen in with a bad cloud?" Pluto asked sadly.

A group of alien spaceships flew into the system, hovered over Earth, cackled at each other excitedly, and landed. Several hundred green beings got out, each with ten arms, two heads, and five legs. They set up interstellar television cameras, drew a circle in the ice, set out chairs, and proceeded with their figure skating championships.

"Wow," Mars said. "Earth's good for something, after all."

"Do you suppose Earth knows they're there?" Venus asked.

"Let's not tell her."

Mercury turned around just long enough to have a quick look. "I like the one in the pink tutu. She's very good."

"She's a he," Mars said.

"Yep," Venus agreed.

"Oh," Mercury said sarcastically. "So suddenly, Mars and Venus are the experts on gender? Since when do men and women come from the two of you?"

The competition ended. The aliens cheered and waved flags, then left. About every 1,500 of Earth's years, they came back and did it all again.

"Hey, Pluto," Mercury called out. "Have you heard anything more from Xena?"

"I think she's not talking to us."

"Does that make her the smart one?" Mars asked.

"In your case, it does," Venus replied.

Mars thought about this, wondering if that was a compliment or an insult. He looked at Venus, but her cloud cover was blank.

"Even if Xena were talking to us, it wouldn't matter," Venus said. "Pretty soon, Earth will be back among the vocal and we wouldn't be able to hear Xena, anyway."

Mars was aghast. "Please tell me you're joking!"

"I told you about the carbon dioxide," Venus said. "I've been watching Earth carefully, and I think it's about time. Probably in another couple thousand years. And when it happens, it should be quick."

Sure enough, the white layer surrounding Earth disappeared almost in a flash, turning her into a vast swamp. It was instantly replaced by her voice. "-mean, anyone can be a complete jerk, but really, we all should just try to be happy, you know?"

"Wow," Mercury said with quiet awe. "She never stopped talking the whole time."

"I guess we know the real reason the ice melted, then," Neptune muttered.

Mars let out a heavy sigh. It killed his magnetic field entirely and blew most of his atmosphere into space, but he didn't care. "I knew it was too good to last."

"What was too good to last?" Earth asked. "Was anyone listening to a word I said?"

"Um...yeah," Saturn replied. "No need to repeat it."

But Earth continued. "I mean, I was just worried about cometary representation, and-"

"Yep," Jupiter interrupted. "Worried about the comets. Got it. No need to elaborate."

The aliens flew in for their figure skating championships. They took one look at Earth, said, "Awwww," and flew away, never to return.

"Who were they?" Earth asked.

"Who was who?" Venus responded. Again, her cloud cover was completely blank. Everyone else was silent.

For once, Earth didn't know what to say, clearly too puzzled to speak.

"Uh, oh," Pluto suddenly said.

"What's going on?" Venus asked.

"Who cares?" Mars retorted.

"Why are you so grumpy?" Earth asked Mars.

"I'm bored. I've got nothing to read. But whatever's cracking Pluto's ice, it can't possibly be of any interest to me."

"There's another solar system passing by!" Pluto said, his voice quivering with fear. "It's threatening to pull me away!"

"I float corrected!" Mars exclaimed. "Someone's snatching you away, and we don't even have to pay him to do it? Glory, hallelujah!"

"I hate to agree with Mars, but for once, I do," Neptune said. "No great loss."

"Guys!" Pluto wailed. "I'm your brother! How could you say that about me?" Then he glanced at Charon. "And my twin sister?"

"Oh, don't mind me," Charon said, and hid behind Pluto.

"Easy," Mars retorted. "You've gone out of your way to be as obnoxious as possible. So why should we be sad if you go?"

"Yeah," Neptune said. "You're just a dirty little snowball."

"Waaaaaaaah!" Pluto sobbed.

"What about Xena?" Venus asked.

"My name is Eris!" came a distant reply, but it was drowned out by Pluto's wailing.

"Who's Xena?" Earth shouted, growing more puzzled by the moment.

"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Saturn exclaimed. "Exert some gravity, everyone. Pluto's right. Don't let him get taken."

There was some general grumbling, but everyone agreed and threw some gravity Pluto's way. Even Mercury gave an effort, token though it was. It was a close call, but after several million years they won the tug-of-war; the other system passed and Pluto was still one of their own, although his orbit had been forever altered. He didn't stop crying, leaving a little trail of icicle tears in an elliptical trail through space. (Charon stared at nothing in particular, trying to pretend it wasn't happening.)

"Oh, quit your blubbering," Uranus said. "At least you aren't tilted over on your side. Oh, I'm so sick."

"Yeah, we helped," Mars said. "So shut up, already."

Pluto sniffed. "But you said I'm just a dirty little snowball!"

"You are!" Neptune said. "But you're our dirty little snowball. We're not going to lose you. That's a promise."

"Awww," Pluto cried some more, but this time, it was icicles of happiness. "Thanks so much." He sniffled. "I love you guys."

Mars muttered, "Yeah, that'll last."

Pluto sniffled some more. "By the way, I'm actually made of rock, not snow and ice. You know...just sayin'."

"Snowball," Neptune coughed.

"Snowball," Saturn muttered.

"Guys..." Pluto whined.

"Whoo-hoo!" Earth shouted. "Hey, you guys, this is the life! Everything about my entire system is absolutely perfect! What are the chances? (Don't answer that.)"

"What floated your clouds suddenly?" Mercury asked.

"I'm growing dinosaurs!"

"Ew," Venus said. "Keep them to yourself."

"Big ones!" Earth continued. "They don't have large brains right now, but after a while, they'll be intelligent. I'm just teeming with plant and animal life of all kinds! It's awesome!"

Mars groaned. "Yes, Earth, we get it! Against all odds, you got hit in exactly the right way to give you one moon which stabilizes your axis; and you're precisely the right distance from Dad to have water in liquid form; and you have an oxygen atmosphere. All of these things happening to you, the same planet, is so incredibly fortunate and so remarkable that it's like you won the interstellar lottery ten times in a row, and you can produce life which will one day be intelligent enough to harness fire, shape metal, and reach for the stars."

"Oh, have I mentioned this before?" Earth asked chirpily.

"Once or twice," Jupiter deadpanned.

"You want to hear about the new flying ones I'm creating?"

"No!" eight voices thundered back (plus one faint voice from afar).

"Oh," Earth said, slightly miffed. "Okay. Fine. If you want to be jealous, that's no crust off my mantle."

Venus said, "Look, Earth, it's not that we're jealous, it's just – EARTH, WATCH OUT!"

Earth turned around frantically but saw nothing. "What?"

Saturn said, "Oh, that's gonna hurt."

"What's going on?" Mercury demanded.

"Turn around," Jupiter said. "To hell with your frozen rear, you don't want to miss this."

"Bye, Earth," Mars said. "Nice knowing you. (Actually, it wasn't.)"

"I still don't know what you're talking about!" Earth exclaimed, scanning the sky.

Mercury turned around. "Hey! I can't see a thing!"

"Take off the sunglasses, doofus," Venus said.

Finally Earth saw it, seconds before it hit. "Aw, hell no," she said.

WHAM!

"Oooooooh," Mercury said, peering over his sunglasses. "Right in the Yucatan."

Saturn said, "Yep. That hurt."

"Medic!" yelled Pluto.

"We have no medic, you idiot!" Uranus exclaimed.

"I know. I just like saying it."

"My dinosaurs!" Earth sobbed, surrounded by fire and ash. "My lovely dinosaurs! Do you know how long it took me to make those?"

"Yes!" Mars said heavily. "You've told us over a million times."

"Mars, you shouldn't exaggerate," Jupiter said.

"I'm not exaggerating. She's literally told us 1,084,692 times."

"Wow," Saturn said. "You really are bored."

"What am I going to do, now?" Earth wailed as the ash subsided. "All I've got left are rodents!"

Pluto waggled his eyebrows and mimed twiddling a cigar. "Quiet, ma'am, or everyone will want some."

"Why don't you start over?" Venus asked. "But this time, make some two-legged mammals who are smart in some ways, but completely stupid and self-destructive in others."

"Why the hell would I do that?"

"Entertainment."

"Hmmmm," Earth mused.

"Hey!" Pluto called out. "My new orbit sometimes takes me inside Neptune's orbit! See? Watch this!"

"Daddy!" Neptune yelled. "Pluto won't stay on his side of my orbit! He's invading my space!"

"DON'T MAKE ME PULL THIS SOLAR SYSTEM OVER!" Dad roared. "I'LL SEPARATE YOU AND ROAST YOU BOTH! RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE REST OF THE GALAXY!"

"We're sorry," Pluto and Neptune said together. But Pluto didn't stop dipping inside Neptune's orbit once each time around.

"Tell me again – why did we keep you?" Neptune asked.

"You love me," Pluto replied.

There was mostly silence for a few million years, except for Earth's constant nattering about her new mammals. Mars got the worst of it, and constantly begged Earth to please – shut – up.

Then a rogue planetoid floated in with a sympathy card. "This is for Alex, he's about 6,000 light years away, and he's going to go supernova in a few million years. We're passing around this card, if anyone would like to sign it."

"Don't know him," Mars said.

"Dad should probably sign the card, anyway," Earth said. "It's the right thing to do."

"NO CARDS," Dad said. "I'M MADE OF NUCLEAR FIRE. CAN'T DO IT."

"Oh, right," Earth said. "Well, here...I'll do it."

Jupiter said, "For goodness sake, don't write something stupid, like, 'I hope your life was a real gas!' or 'Look on the sunny side!' or 'I wish we could give you a plasma transfusion!"

"I won't!" Earth whined defensively, resolving never to admit that she had been planning to write, 'Don't lose your cool!'

Earth took the card and wrote, "Sorry you and all your children are about to die. You've lived a long and full life, so no regrets, okay? Can't wait to see what stars are born from your remains! It should be quite a sight. Give us a spectacular show, okay? Love, System Sol."

She added a little happy face inside the letter "o" in Sol and handed the card back. "Here you go."

"Thanks," the planetoid replied, taking the card and moving on.

"Ooooh!" Earth exclaimed. "I just felt a kick. My mammals have discovered fire! I think they're about to organize crops and build cities!"

"Yay," Mars said.

"Yep, cities! Oh, dang, they're fighting each other. What's up with that?"

"Like I said, smart but stupid," Venus replied.

From 6,000 light years away, in the constellation of Taurus, came a colossal explosion which lit up the sky.

"Oooooooooh," they all said reverently.

"Bye, Alex," Venus said sadly. "Hello, Crab Nebula."

"That's beautiful," Mars whispered. Even he was moved. Earth smiled at him, although Mars was too preoccupied to notice.

"Is that our fate?" Pluto asked quietly.

"Yeah," Jupiter replied. "But not for a long, long time."

Together, they watched the nebula grow, lost in their thoughts.

"Ouch!" Earth suddenly shouted. "What the hell? My mammals are setting off nuclear explosions! They sting!"

"Hey, you made them," Venus said.

"It was your suggestion!"

"Oh, sure! Blame me for your cooties!"

"Oh, now they're launching satellites to take pictures of me!" Earth said with delight. "How sweet!"

"Huh," Venus grunted. "You glamour queen, you."

"Aw, you're just saying that 'cause it's true," Earth replied sweetly.

"Oh, wait," Venus said. "They're taking pictures of us, too."

"Those are Sputnik, Pioneer, Venera, and Mariner spacecraft. They're just probing you. Don't worry, it won't hurt."

Mars made a face. "You look like you're surrounded with gnats."

"Those are just satellites...and that's an Apollo rocket. It's headed for my moon."

"Huh?" Earth's moon woke up. "How did I get dragged into this?"

Mars suddenly said, "Hey. Hey hey hey hey hey hey hey hey! What the hell's this?"

"Those are Viking spacecraft," Earth replied. "My mammals are investigating you."

"Why? And where's a flyswatter when I need one?"

"You're close, you have a surface they can see easily, and you have an atmosphere."

"Oh, sure, blame it on the victim! Just because I'm attractive doesn't mean it's an invitation! Earth, what are your disgusting mammals doing on me?"

"Looking for water."

"Is there a shortage, suddenly? What the hell do they want mine for?"

"Awww. Are my poor widdle mammals bothawing you, Marsy-Warsy?"

"Yes! Get them off me! Off! Off! Off! They're taking pictures of my face! Aaaack!"

"Hey, my mammals are doing something right, after all. I haven't had this much fun in several billion years. Thanks, Venus!"

"No prob."

"I'll get you for this, Earth!" Mars snapped.

"What are you gonna do, throw another five-pound rock onto Antarctica? Oooooh, scared."

"I'll create my own life and tell it to invade you!"

"Been done. My mammals already made the movie."

"Good luck catching up," Venus chimed in.

"Oh, let's not argue!" Earth said fretfully, then brightened up eagerly. "You know what we need?"

"A second ice age for you," Saturn said.

"A small wandering black hole to come through and clean house," Mars said.

"We need a group photo!" Earth took a breath and closed her eyes, flexed sharply, and popped something tiny off her surface.

"What the hell's that?" Mars asked.

"Voyager! Smile, everyone!"

"CHEEEEEEEESE!" Click went Voyager.

"Hey!" Venus snapped, as Mercury scowled. "What about us?"

"You got your picture taken earlier," Earth said. "Don't spin out of control."

"Daddy, Earth is leaving us out of her picture!" Mercury said. "Will you send a flare her way to teach her a lesson?"

"NO. DON'T ASK AGAIN."

"Flares are so out of style," Pluto said.

"Fantastic!" Uranus moaned sarcastically. "You got a picture of my pole!"

"And what a fine-looking specimen it is, too!" Saturn said with a wink.

"I can't wait 'til that gets developed!" Neptune said. "We haven't had a group photo in, well...never, I guess."

"That's because you're all so ugly!" Shoemaker-Levy 9 laughed as he zipped by.

"That's it, S-L 9," Jupiter said. "I warned you."

"Yeah, you warned me, again and again, but all you do is talk the talk. You don't orbit the orbit. You don't...um...what are you doing?" The comet finally saw the position Jupiter was taking.

"I told you," Jupiter said simply. There was no mercy in his voice. "It's time."

"You wouldn't. Really? Oh. You are. Aw, crud. Come on, have a heart!"

"I don't have a heart. I have a molten hydrogen core. Get acquainted, snowball."

"Come and see the violence inherent in the solar system!" Shoemaker-Levy 9 shouted. "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"

"Bloody peasant!" Jupiter exclaimed.

"How sad!" Earth wailed.

"It's no big deal," Mars said.

"No big deal? Shoemaker-Levy 9 will be annihilated! What do you call that?"

"A good start."

"Aaaaaaaagh!" Shoemaker-Levy 9 yelled as he broke apart and plummeted into Jupiter's atmosphere.

"That was totally uncalled for," Saturn complained.

"But fun," Venus said, munching on popcorn. "Do it again."

Pluto said, "I guess S-L9 just didn't fully understand the gravity of the situ-"

"Don't," Neptune said. "Just. Don't."

More objects flew from Earth towards Mars. "Oh, what now?" Mars asked tiredly.

"That's Mars Pathfinder," Earth replied happily. "And the Mars Observer. And the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter, and the Spirit, and the Opportunity, and...you know, just get used to it."

"I hate you."

The comet Tempel 1 spoke up. "Look on the bright side – at least they didn't smash something into your nose."

"They did that to you?" Mars asked.

"Yes! And there was a family of little green aliens having a picnic on my surface, minding their own business, when out of the sky comes this hunk of metal and lands right on top of them. What a waste."

Earth suddenly exclaimed, "Hey, my mammals are up to something! I'm getting warmer! My poles are melting!"

"Nobody cares," Mars said.

"Apparently not," Earth said sadly.

"Hey, everyone!" Saturn said. "I found the Voyager pictures!"

Earth felt slighted. "How? I haven't passed them out, yet. (I was waiting for a special occasion.)"

"My rings also pick up TV signals."

"Show-off," Jupiter muttered. Saturn passed out the photos.

"I want some moon-sized ones for all the kids," Uranus said.

"Hey!" Jupiter exclaimed, looking at one of the photos. "Pluto released some icicles that made rabbit ears over Neptune!" He was so angry he twisted his atmostphere into a second red spot.

"You ruined our pictures?" Saturn shouted. Pluto cackled with glee.

"That does it!" Earth exclaimed. "Pluto, that was the final straw. You were warned, but you didn't care, so now you're gonna pay. You are no longer a planet!"

Pluto stopped cackling. "What?"

"You heard me! You are hereby downgraded to dwarf planet!"

"No!" Pluto wailed. "You can't mean it!"

"Hey, does that mean I'm a dwarf planet, too?" Ceres asked.

"Yep!" Earth replied.

"Oh, all right!" Ceres said smoothly, smiling at the thought of it.

"Of course, that means you're no longer king of the asteroids," Mars said. "It means now you're at the bottom of the dwarf planet dungheap."

Ceres sighed. "It's just not fair. Even when I win, I don't win."

"Please tell me you're not going to do this to me!" Pluto blubbered. Charon sighed and looked around for some way to escape.

"There's no going back, Pluto," Earth said. "You are no longer one of us."

"NOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Pluto shouted, and the rest of them cackled hysterically for several years.

"QUIET!" roared Dad.

There was quiet, except for the faint, distant sound of Eris laughing her atmosphere off at Pluto.

Mercury cleared his throat. "Sorry."

Copyright Douglas Neman. All rights reserved.

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