by Esther Davis
“Girl, you really need to stop growing so much greenery. It only attracts more vermin, you know.”
Earth floated in silence, with more dignity than Mars ever mustered in the face of Venus’s taunts.
“How about another meteor? It took out your lizard problem. Or maybe widen your orbit a bit and freeze them. That worked for Mars.”
Mars felt his core trembling. The roots, the fishes, the pattering feet—it had felt so…alive.
Venus’s scoff still rang in his mind. Planets shouldn’t be alive.
If only he had ignored Venus. If only Mars were more like Earth.
“Earth, honey, you look horrendous. Even worse than poor Mars did. Those stone tumors can’t be healthy.”
“They’re cities!” Mars snapped before he could hold back the words.
“Cities?” Venus’s voice dropped to a venomous tone. “You let them get intelligent? You know what happens next, sweetie?” Venus asked Earth. “They fly off you and come to infect me!”
Earth continued orbiting in silence.
“I swear, the year I see vermin buzzing off of you, I’ll have Sun burn them up. Every last one.”
An infection? Mars studied Earth for a moment, letting Venus’s words weigh on his mind.
Earth caught his gaze, suspicion radiating from her globe. Mars jerked away, pretending to scrutinize his moons instead while containing his excitement.
Mars could have life again.
Human–so young, so fleeting. Yet when Mars brushed his mind to theirs, they responded.
Mars found the son of a musician and filled him with dreams of the stars. The boy built a slender, metal toy to gaze at the sky. But he looked at Mars for only a moment before turning all attention to Sun.
“Serves you right if he burns your eyeballs out,” Mars grumbled.
One of his moons piqued up. “What?” Phobos asked.
He reached out to the seafarers’ minds, drawing their eyes upward. Awestruck, the sailors stared at the diamond studded night. But they too ignored Mars and focused on a distant star. Polaris stole his glory.
“You’re manipulating Earth’s vermin, aren’t you?” Phobos whispered.
“Nonsense,” Mars said.
“Be careful. They’ll feel your emotions too.”
A black-haired human, short but powerful, seemed promising. But he never looked upward longer than to chart the course of his war path.
No one looked. No one cared.
Mars pulled away his mind, sweeping Earth for the kings and chiefs of the minuscule humans. He pushed, urging them to explore and travel—and they did, but not to Mars. Armor and weapons gleaming, the humans assaulted one another, seeking for what their neighbors owned.
“It’s not working!” Mars hissed, too quiet for the other planets to notice. But Phobos heard.
“Really?” The moon filled her words with sarcasm. “Seems it’s working wonderfully to me.”
Mars glared at Phobos, wondering if he really needed a second moon. After all, Deimos never shared unwelcome advice.
“Take your death stare off me a moment long enough to look at Earth, would you?” Before Mars could respond, Phobos jumped out of his line of sight, letting the green planet fill his view.
Earth trembled, tectonic plates grinding, tsunamis washing across her shores. “What has gotten into them?” Several fiery explosions rumbled across Earth’s atmosphere. She sent up another tidal wave in despair. Earth looked to her own moon. “Why so much fighting?”
Mars’s winds swirled. His own crust grated uncomfortably. “I didn’t mean to,” he muttered.
Her focus lifted, and Mars thought Earth had heard him, until he saw her true focus–the rockets.
The silver birds rose into orbit, hanging low near Earth’s atmosphere. A few angled away, aiming for Earth’s moon. And then one made for Mars.
Phobos gasped. “Look!”
Mar’s core boiled.
Coming for him.
One rocket after another landed on Mar’s red dirt. Not manned by humans, but small metallic creatures.
Life. Mars had his own life again.
“I told you the disease would spread.” Venus words shattered the spell.
Beside him, Earth’s atmosphere churned, sending out hurricanes. Mars felt his own surface chill.
Venus’s toxic clouds clung to her globe, undisturbed. “Mars, be a dear and help our little lady with some pest control. Her vermin have gotten out of hand.”
Earth wrapped protective clouds around the continents facing Mars.
He fumbled for words, magma swirling, volcanoes rumbling. Venus’s attention drilled into Mars. His panicked mind couldn’t process.
“Just toss a moon at her. A hunk of rock should take care of the vermin.”
“Shut your crater, you acidic Sun-kisser!” Phobos shouted, though her tiny voice never made it past Mars.
“No.” Mars forced strength into each word. His voice still trembled. “Toss your own moon.”
Venus glowered, the space around her practically glowing with emptiness. “I don’t need a moon.”
Venus fell still. Mars didn’t realize what she was doing until Earth shouted.
“What? Thought Mars was the only one who could play mind games with the vermin?” Venus laughed.
“Help! Mars, do something!”
Mars reached out, brushing the humans’ minds. Flames of anger and hate burned from Earth’s creatures—the humans, the animals, the plants. One word filled life on Earth—destroy.
His atmosphere rushed in torrents. “I don’t know how to fight it,” Mars said. “I’ll just feed it.”
“Don’t fight, Mars. Make them flee!” Phobos said.
Flee? But then they’d never come to Mars.
No. His greed had done enough damage.
Mars sent out fear, the one emotion he could summon naturally at the moment. Flee to the stars, he urged. Beyond the moon. Beyond the sun. Escape. It’s your only hope.
Explosions erupted across Earth, louder and stronger than ever before, their heat radiating out into space. At the same time, silver rockets rushed into space from every continent.
“Earth!” Mars shouted. The explosions would tear her to pieces!
“Sun, don’t let the infection get us!” Venus cried.
Blinding light flashed across the solar system. Waves thousands of times hotter than the humans’ warheads washed over Mars. Auroras whipped around Earth’s hemispheres.
The explosions ceased. All noise of life vanished. Even the metallic creatures on Mar’s surface fell silent.
Sun pulled his flares back and returned to sleep.
“They’re gone…” Earth orbited at a crooked angle. Her moon floated beside her, charred and with chunks ripped from his side.
“Earth…” Mars started.
“They’re gone!” Earth’s blackened surface crackled. She yanked herself from her orbit and shot into space.
Venus scoffed. “Good riddance.”
Mars’s core felt like frozen hydrogen.
“You can still fix it,” Phobos said.
“No, its too late.”
Phobos huffed and left her orbit around Mars. She floated towards the black sphere left in Earth’s wake. Her moon.
After circling the disfigured moon a few times, Phobos drifted back. “He knows were Earth went.”
Mars lifted his gaze. An unfamiliar surge of lightning pulsed across his surface. “How?”
“No one knows a planet better than his moon.”
Three moons in tow, Mars whisked through empty space. He felt like the sailors afloat Earth’s ocean millennia ago, charting his course by the stars.
“That one,” Earth’s moon said. “Centauri. She thinks the humans went there.”
As they approached, a single dot of light separated into three stars. A vibrant green planet orbited near the closest to one.
And humans! Mars could feel their minds. Humans and beasts and trees, all growing on the planet.
“Earth!” Mars called.
The planet turned, a lopsided moon peaking around his corner. “You’re rather rusty,” the planet said.
No, not Earth.
“Mars, look.” Phobos tilted, pointing towards a rocky planet orbiting farther out. Using his momentum, Mars swung around the planet and slingshot towards it.
Earth’s moon cheered and launched off Mars. He reached Earth and wrapped into a tight orbit.
Ash-covered Earth tore her gaze from the green planet and looked toward Mars. “You followed me.” He didn’t know what to make of her flat tone.
“My children? Living on Terra? Yes. They found a new home.” Earth’s words came out hollow. Dead.
“Right.” Mars’s crust clenched. He hovered a moment, not sure what to say.
“Tell her,” Phobos prodded.
“She’ll hate me,” Mars muttered.
“Tell her anyway.”
Mars turned to leave.
“You’ll always regret it if you don’t,” Phobos said.
Mars stopped, defeated. “Fine.” Where to start? What to say? Unable to think of something eloquent, he finally forced out the first words that came. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” Earth echoed.
“It’s my fault. I wanted the humans for myself. I didn’t care if Venus noticed.” Lava spilled from Mars’s volcanoes, flowing over his landscape. “I… I’ll go now.” Mars floated out of orbit, though he didn’t know where, exactly, to go.
“Wait,” Earth said. “Stay here a while.”
“It was because of Venus, not you.”
Mars turned back. Earth watched him, salty oceans washing across her face.
“One day, the humans will outgrow Terra and voyage to surrounding planets. They might as well have another option besides their bald grandmother.”
“Go on,” Phobos nudged.
“Alright, then.” Mars slid into a nearby orbit. Magma rumbled beneath his crust. “Is that some grass growing at your equator?”
“Really?” Earth trembled excitedly.
“I bet your humans will return sooner than you think.”
You can find more short stories in A Dog, 3 Cats, and a Dragon and on Esther Davis’s blog. Make sure to subscribe above (or below for you mobile users) and follow her on Twitter / Facebook / Instagram if you haven’t already. Thanks for reading!