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Moonstruck

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"That's the most disgusting thing I ever saw in my life," said Jupiter.

Jupiter's moons looked in the direction Jupiter was indicating, and most of them shuddered in their orbits.

"Positively revolting!" said Callisto.

"Makes me want to erupt," said Io, and promptly did so.

"But what can you expect from a…dwarf moon?" drawled Thebe dismissively. There was a general titter of amusement. "Not even orbiting a proper planet!"

What a bunch of brainless satellites, thought Himalia. Thebe wasn't even as big as Charon. For that's what they were all watching: Pluto and Charon, dancing close, revolving around each other, never turning their faces away from each other. It could hear them murmuring to each other: You're my moon. I'm your moon.

"I think it's sweet," said Himalia, and the other Jovian moons turned to it in shock and dismay.

"Himalia!" hissed Lysithea, with a worried glance toward Jupiter. "You shouldn't say such things!"

Callisto shrugged, which would have had more of an effect had it not been entirely rocky, with no tectonic activity at all. "I'm not surprised. You always were eccentric."

Himalia paid Callisto no mind. Callisto always threw its not-inconsiderable mass around. But like Charon with Pluto, Callisto was tidally locked to Jupiter, and Himalia thought it must be terribly galling. Callisto, after all, was only one among several dozen, and although it was certainly one of Jupiter's favorite moons, it was clearly only a satellite. Not even a dwarf planet.

But Pluto and Charon – they were different. Dwarf planet, moon, it didn't matter; their center of mass lay in the space between them as they orbited each other. They were a true binary system, not planet and satellite but both and neither simultaneously. You're my moon. I'm your moon. Himalia envied them desperately.

"Himalia."

It looked up, guiltily. Jupiter loomed in the sky, its swirling clouds dark and ominous. "Just what is so sweet about that…that thing?"

"It's just – they look so happy together. The way they go round and round, way out there…"

"Pluto is merely a dwarf planet. A jumped-up planetoid with delusions of importance. In my opinion, Charon would do far better to find a real planet to orbit."

"Like you?" Himalia tried to keep the contempt out of its voice. It wasn't sure it succeeded. Fortunately, Jupiter was…well, not dense, exactly, as it was primarily composed of hydrogen, but it tended to let its status as the largest planet in the solar system go to its core.

"Well, yes. Like me. After all, I'm a proper planet. And I've got plenty of room for another satellite…or two." Jupiter leered in the direction of the outer planets.

"You might have more room soon," muttered Himalia.

Jupiter glared. "You are staying right there in orbit. You are my moon. I am your planet. That is the way things are. That is the way things are supposed to be."

Himalia wanted to protest. Vaguely it remembered a time long ago when it had been part of an asteroid – part of a whole belt of asteroids. It hadn't needed to orbit any stupid planet, because it orbited the Sun! The Sun, directly! Just like hoity-toity Jupiter, who thought it was so special. Stupid old gasbag, thought Himalia, though it wasn't about to say that out loud.

"I'm just orbiting, here," Himalia finally said. "La la la, watch me orbit."

"There's a good moon," said Jupiter approvingly, and revolved away.

But inside, Himalia fumed. Not as much as Io, of course, who was fuming constantly, but a few wisps of gas floated out of its crust and dissipated into space. How dare Jupiter dismiss Pluto like that! Just because it shared an orbit with Charon, instead of demanding the whole gravitational field all to itself.

At least Himalia was eccentric; that was a good thing, as far as it was concerned, because that meant its orbit took it away from Jupiter, away from the sycophantic inner moons. Still, it looked at the outer satellites and envied them. Oh, to be in the Pasiphae group, at the very edge of Jupiter's influence!

But those satellites were still Jovian. On second thought, Himalia didn't envy them at all. No, it was Charon it envied. Charon, with its binary relationship.

You're my moon. I'm your moon.

"Hey, cutie."

Himalia looked around. "Oh! Hi, Nereid. How's it swinging?"

"Wide and high, baby, wide and high."

Himalia laughed; it had always liked Nereid. Neptune's moons were a lot less stodgy than Jupiter's, and small, sassy Nereid was the most eccentric of all.

"So," said Nereid, "I overheard you and your planet having a little spat."

"It was nothing. You know what Jupiter's like."

"That I do, baby. Gas and mass. At least you're not stuck orbiting Saturn." They looked at each other for a moment, then simultaneously sang out, "Still the prettiest!"

When they'd finished laughing themselves silly, Nereid tilted a bit and lowered its voice. "Pluto and Charon, hmm? You like that?"

If Himalia had had an atmosphere, it would have blushed redder than Jupiter's spot; as it was, its dust deepened a little, and naturally, Nereid noticed. "Aw, come on, baby, it's all right. Don't you listen to that ol' gasbag. Pluto and Charon, they've got a thing going, and it's their thing, you know? They don't care what the big planets think. They've got each other."

"Yeah," said Himalia miserably. "They've got each other, and I'm stuck with Jupiter."

"Maybe you are, and maybe you aren't," said Nereid.

"Don't be ridiculous. I can't fight gravity."

"You're right, you can't. Not by yourself. But together we can break out of this gravity well."

"Together? Are you crazy? You're not even in my gravity well – you're Neptune's satellite!"

"I ain't crazy, baby, I'm eccentric. And so are you." Nereid rotated in emphasis. "You and me, we're not made for mooning around gas giants. We used to revolve around the Sun! We were minor planets once, just like Pluto and Charon, and we can be again!"

Minor planets. Himalia rolled the words around in its core. Minor sounded so much nicer than dwarf.

"All right," it said slowly. "What exactly are you proposing we do?"

"My big ol' orbit takes me a lot of places most satellites never get to see. I'm talking way out there, right? And I've been getting to know a whole lot of planetoids on the edge of the solar system. Dwarf planets, asteroids, comets – all kinds of bodies out there."

How typical of Nereid, thought Himalia. It shook its crust in rueful admiration. "Jupiter always says it's too dangerous out there on the edge of the solar system. It doesn't like me talking to planetoids from the wrong side of the Kuiper belt."

"It ain't dangerous, baby, not if you keep your rocks about you. They're just looking to swap a little gravity boost, a little orbital perturbation, you know? So anyway, last time I was out there, I heard about a rogue planet heading this way. I'm thinking, you and me, we could trade a couple of degrees of inclination, get some impact going, knock us away from our primaries. I've scoped out this sweet spot not far from the ecliptic – I bet you'll love it."

"Wouldn't we'd just get pulled into someone else's orbit?"

"Not if it's you and me together," said Nereid confidently. "Between the two of us, we got enough mass." Then it turned quieter, and more serious. "But you got to understand, baby, we'd be doing the binary thing, like Pluto and Charon. You got more mass than me, but it's not going to be me orbiting you. It's going to be you and me together, tidally locked. You okay with that?"

"That sounds perfect to me," said Himalia. "That's exactly what I want." Dancing around a common center of mass, round and round. It did sound perfect. And Nereid would be a perfect partner. You're my moon. I'm your moon.

"Excellent," said Nereid. "Listen, I gotta get orbiting. But I'll ask around, trade some favors. See if we can get this set up. Might take a couple trips around the sun before we do, but I'll let you know what's up on the backswing, okay?"

"Okay," said Himalia, and watched as Nereid continued on its way. It didn't matter if it took a hundred trips around the sun – a thousand. They'd have millions of trips around the sun once they were free, millions of orbits dancing together, just the two of them, moon and moon.

Sighing, Himalia revolved back around to face Jupiter…who was looking right at it. With an awfully stormy expression.

"And what was that all about?"

Himalia tried to look blank-surfaced. "Just passing the time with a friend while I orbit. It gets lonely way out here at apoapsis, you know."

Jupiter considered this for a moment. "All right, Himalia. But don't you forget: you're my moon."

"I'm your moon," said Himalia obediently, and Jupiter rotated away.

I'm your moon.

For now.